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in 2012 with funding from
LYRASIS Members and Sloan Foundation
Get away from me with those Christmas Gifts
This book is for my friends,
particularly David Sheps,
in memory of his mother, Janet Thorn Sheps,
who first contributed to and
laughed over the Christmas presents
et away from me
AND Orr»£2R REACTIONS
Illustrations by Sheila. Gieenwald
McGRAW-HILL BOOK COMPANY, INC.
New YorJc Toronto London
The author wishes to thank the following: The MacDowell
Colony, for a month of perfect working conditions; Nana and
Marcia Robbins, for corroborating the existence and habits of
beings such as mumblebees and cattalomes; and, most heartily,
Pearl Kazin, without whom pronouns would have had peculiar
antecedents, modifiers would have dangled, and situations that
should have been chaotic might have been inchoate.
Grateful acknowledgment is also made to the following
magazines for permission to include material that first ap-
peared, in somewhat different form, in their pages : Harper's
magazine, for "Whose World? and Welcome to It," "Who
the Hell Is Holy, Fair, and Wise?" "Get Away from Me
with Those Christmas Gifts," "How to Make Chicken
Liver Pate Once," "My Kitchen Hates Me," "Dear Fidu-
ciary Trust Company," "The Death of Lady Mondegreen,"
"What Was Good Enough for Mr. Rochester," "Quit It,
Ompremitywise," and "Picking Your Mate with a Menu";
Vogue, for "What Have I Been Doing All This Time?"
"The Fleers of Backford English," and "How to Avoid
Emotional Maturity"; The Atlantic Monthly, for "How I
Am Never Going to Make Clam Chowder Again"; Harper's
Bazaar, for "On Being a Little Bit Sick" and "How to Mend
a Broken Heart"; High Fidelity, for "Soap and the Opera";
and MademoiseJIe, for "How to Be Happy Though Fired."
GET AWAY FROM ME WITH THOSE CHRISTMAS GIFTS
Copyright © 1956, 1957, by Sylvia Wright. Copyright, 1952, 1953,
1954, 1955, by Sylvia Wright. Printed in the United States of America.
All rights reserved. This book or parts thereof may not be reproduced
in any form without written permission of the publishers.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 57-12597
FOREWORD: Author? Author?
THE PUBLISHER wanted this book to have a central
theme. Why don't you, he said, be a bachelor girl living alone
in New York?
I am, and I tried, and I couldn't. From this, only one con-
clusion could be drawn. I wasn't. Nowadays, to be something
you have to take an attitude, and I couldn't figure out what
the attitude was, though I had a hunch it smacked of being
a gay, mad gal. I looked up bachelor in the dictionary, and I
found that a bachelor, among other things, was a North
American fresh-water fish, found chiefly in the Great Lakes
regions and southward through the Mississippi, otherwise
known as a crappie. So where was I?
The publisher was brave and said, All right, I could let the
book creep up on me. Now that it has, I should be able to
tell him what it is and who crept up with it.
I can't. There seems to be someone here because the pages
are sprinkled with Fs, but whoever is here (if anyone) is a
different I from me.
All I can tell you is what she did. First, she tried to find out
who she was. She thought she could do so by pouncing, so she
pounced on her sex, on her name, and on how she spent my
This got her nowhere, so she gave up and went wandering
around the house, picking things up after herself and putting
them down. She wandered into the kitchen and did a little
cooking, but presently she threw the cookbook on the floor
and went out again. Occasionally she muttered things like
Get away, Keep your distance, Who do you think you are? I
found this surprising because I think that normally she has a
sweet disposition and knows better than to take things out on
Next she strayed into the library, where she pulled all the
books down from the shelves and dipped into them. She
wasn't selective: she was just as likely to pull down a corpo-
ration report as a book of ballads. Then she tore pages out
of them, and mixed them up into a lot of little messes.
Having messed up the library, she went outdoors and
began jumping at the world, evidently thinking that what-
ever was going on was particularly directed at her. Consider-
ing how meek I tend to be, I am constantly surprised at how
brisk and positive she sounds.
Finally she sat down and wrote a fable. While she was
writing, she wouldn't speak to me, but when she had finished,
she said in surprise, How did this happen? This must be for
you. Then she lost all interest.
So, judging from her behavior, she is perverse, variable,
and undefinable. I would think her product would turn out
to be likewise but whether it did or not is unimportant,
because the minute the publisher got his hands on it, he
knew exactly what it was.
This, he said to my surprise, is a book called Get Away
horn Me with Those Christmas Gifts:
Foreword: Author? Author?
I. who's here, if anyone?
Whose World? and Welcome to It 3
Who the Hell Is Holy, Fair, and Wise? 1 3
What Have I Been Doing All This Time? 19
II. WANDERING AROUND THE HOUSE
Get Away from Me with Those Christmas Gifts 29
How to Make Chicken Liver Pate Once 36
Soap and the Opera 42
Dear Fiduciary Trust Company 55
My Kitchen Hates Me 67
I Won't Do It Myself 75
How I Am Never Going to Make Clam Chowder Again 85
Too Many Cooks? 90
III. STRAYING INTO THE LIBRARY
The Death of Lady Mondegreen 105
Institute, Meet Artist 113
What Was Good Enough for Mr. Rochester 125
Titles on the Loose 133
Me as White Goddess 1 37
The Fleers of Backford English 147
IV. JUMPING AT THE WORLD
How to Avoid Emotional Maturity 1 59
On Being a Little Bit Sick 171
How I Lost One-and-a-Half Pounds in Six Weeks 180
Quit It, Ompremitywise 187
How to Be Happy Though Fired 191
Picking Your Mate with a Menu 199
How to Mend a Broken Heart 205
Yawp for Today 215
V. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
The Quest of Lady Mondegreen 221
Who's Here, If Anyone?
Whose World? — And Welcome to It
GOOD MANY PEOPLE, AND SEXUAL AN-
thropologists, feel that I, American Woman, am in a state of
disarray: I am disturbed about my lot, restless, anxious, con-
fused; insecure, dissatisfied, demanding; lonely, touchy,
grouchy; neurotic, psychosomatic, and sexually ambiguous.
Funnily enough, I am also taking over. I am turning the
United States into a matriarchy, by which they mean a ma-
They view this with alarm, and so do I. I view with alarm
having to be American Woman. Every time I find that I am
it, lassitude creeps over me. I would call it boredom, if I
didn't know that I shouldn't be bored at being American
Like all persons, including men, I read the things about
American Woman because I think they are going to be about
sex. Occasionally they are— bland sex. But the burden is
all the ways in which I am found wanting and all the things
I should be, do, or make.
Like all women and other precision instruments, I am sen-
sitive and responsive: I weep with delight when they give me
a smile and tremble with fear at their frown. So I try. But if
this keeps up I will have so many things to be and do that I
will never have a moment to myself to find out who's here,
So I would like to reassure everyone that I am really quite
all right. Into each life, a little rain, etc., and sometimes I
get caught in it without an umbrella. Try as I will, I always
feel that I, person, not I, American Woman, am the one who
is drenched. This may be base expediency on my part. Per-
son can dry out. It would take Woman forever.
To start with, I have not taken over. Only a casual look is
needed to show that this is not a woman's world.
How can it be, with fluorescent lights in it? I arrive for
lunch with a charming man, soignee and smiling elusively.
For the moment I am Marlene Dietrich, which is silly be-
cause I know I should be trying to be Helpmate. But I figure
that that can come later. Everything is fine, and nobody but
me knows that I am Marlene Dietrich. Then I go into the
ladies' room and look at myself in the mirror under the nice,
bright, twentieth-century fluorescent light. Suddenly there
in the mirror is Lena the Hyena, on whom "no hoomin" can
bear to look.
The last time I went to my doctor's, I was an alert, open-
minded American woman, ready to cooperate with the small
group of dedicated scientists who are forcing back the fron-
tiers of ignorance. I was only going for a checkup. As I went
into the dressing room, I was Ingrid Bergman in a white coat.
Another thing I don't like about fluorescent lights is the
sneaky way they wait a while before turning on.
When they did, I knew why I had come. I was sick, fa-
tally sick. I had got to the doctor's just in time.
There is someone behind the mirrors lighted by fluores-
cent lights who I cannot bear to think is me. Fluorescent
lights are to women as Mrs. Mitty is to Walter.
The people who make things to sit on have no considera-
tion for my contours or my savoii-faiie. In those hammock
4 Whose World? and Welcome to It
chairs I have to get into the knee-chest position. Modern
upholstered chairs are too long for me from hip to knee.
Either I have my legs straight out in front like a doll, or I sit
on one foot, which goes to sleep.
Studio couches are another trap. I lean back, happily ready
to be the life of the party. Gradually it comes over me that
the life of the party is resting on one small bone at the
base of my neck, because the studio couch is slowly moving
out into the middle of the room.
Architects make the great thick glass doors in new build-
ings just too heavy for me to push open unless I get into an
People who make keys do something to them that makes
them stick when I use them. Men cannot keep their hands
off a woman who is struggling with a key. Man takes key.
Key has been doctored so that now its works fine. I feel in-
secure, lonely, grouchy, and mere.
There is a country-wide guild of men in shirt sleeves or-
ganized to harry women while parking. One of them always
pops up from nowhere, stations himself on the curb, shouts
monosyllabic commands, and cramps imaginary wheels. At
intervals, he says, "You can make it, lady/' I had thought
I could, but watching both him and the space makes me
anxious. When I finally get parked, and perhaps it did take
me a little longer than it should have, he goes off, satisfied
that I couldn't have done it without him. The most expert of
this group is detailed to make me nervous while getting my
car onto a ferryboat.
The other day I bought a bed pillow. Attached to one end
was a large tag with cryptic notations about license, certi-
fication, Act of Congress, and entirely new material. In large
black letters, it said:
DO NOT REMOVE THIS TAG
UNDER PENALTY OF THE LAW
It's my pillow, isn't it? I paid for it. Why can't I take off
the tag? But I don't. There might be a surprise raid.
Zippers are to convince me that I should learn to keep my
butterfmgers out of modern technology and recognize the
need for experts. In the old days, I could always sew on an-
other hook and eye. Now I'm lucky if I escape with any skin
except of my teeth, not to mention an intact dress.
They put the tops of jars on too tight.
Arranging flowers is womanly, and, as all womanly occupa-
tions are supposed to be but aren't, rather fun. So they're
beginning to take it away. The last time someone sent me
flowers, they were stiffly set in a papier-mache vase, ready
for a funeral. A slip came with them announcing that
the flowers had been fixed with Floralife powder, which
would make them last longer. It said under no circumstances
was I (amateur!) to change the water or rearrange the
Floralife powder looks like sludge. I peeked.
It is true that American Man is also sitting in a hammock
chair, under fluorescent lights, facing a three-way mirror, and
struggling with a stuck zipper. But look at the difference.
Don't ask me why, but it doesn't puncture his ego as it does
mine. No one tells him (though I fear they are beginning to)
that on his every action depends the manliness of American
man. Either he doesn't notice, or he curses. 1 Fearlessly he
1 In the speed and single-mindedness of social advance, certain capacities
remain dormant. As yet, we have no tradition of feminine cursing. When
American Woman accepts her true role in American life, she may find the
time, leisure, and self-confidence necessary to express herself, as men have
always done, in those arts and graces which, luxuries in a competitive
6 Whose Woild? and Welcome to It
rips the tag off the pillow, while talking about something
else. He gets the tops off jars. Thus, instinctively, he asserts
his primary maleness (presently you'll see where I picked up
this nice phrase) and creates an interpersonal relationship
in which I respond according to the basic laws of my
I mean I love him.
The second thing which worries the commentators on
American Woman is that I don't know the difference be-
tween men and women. Not the obvious difference (come
now!) but the difference between his and my role in life.
This could be dire, as I realized when I read the issue of
Life magazine entirely devoted to what one writer therein
called that "fascinating, puzzling, eminently noticeable fig-
ure"— American Woman. (You can't miss me, possibly be-
cause I'm half the population. )
Among the articles was one which contained the conclu-
sions of a number of psychiatrists and psychologists. One of
these gentlemen drew a fearsome picture: "The factory
couple, leaving perhaps on the same bus in the morning, both
perhaps wearing trousers, he soldering the radio parts which
she later puts together on an assembly line, coming home
equally tired to their frozen-food ready-cooked dinners and
the television set they have bought with their joint earnings,
are sexually undifferentiated at all times except in the nup-
tial embrace. The relationship is mutually insulting to their
primary maleness and femaleness."
This doesn't appall me as much as it does the writer. I
can't help it, but it sounds cozy. There we are, both with our
society, are enrichments of a civilized life. Until she can develop herself
along this previously purely masculine line, and make it her own, she cannot
be said to have accepted her responsibilities as a member of her sex.
legs in trousers up on the coffee table, comfortably tired and
looking at television together. Soon we will have a lovely
time getting all sexually differentiated.
Nor do I understand why the writer minds the trousers.
If it were a Chinese woman going out to help her husband
get the water buffalo out of the rice paddy, and returning
home equally tired, would he feel that they were insulting
each other mutually? A little sexual undifferentiate can
be helpful to get one (male or female) through a hard day.
My negative reaction here may throw some doubt on my
primary femaleness, but really and truly I do know the dif-
ferences between men and women. According to my observa-
tions, they are as follows:
Women wearing trousers put their hands in the pockets.
Men wearing trousers keep things in the pockets.
When a woman sits down on a sofa with little pillows on
it, she cuddles into them. When a man does so, he pulls all
the pillows out from behind him and throws them to the
other end of the sofa.
Women go to the farthest corners of restaurants and sit
with their backs to the wall. Men are quite at ease standing
up at a bar in the middle of a room.
Before men open cans, they always put them right side
up. Women, figuring that it makes no difference, are likely
to open them upside down. This is subtly unnerving to men.
A man can go happily along for two or three weeks owing
a drink or a lunch to another man. During an equivalent pe-
riod, a woman who owes another woman a dime will be
deeply anxious and disturbed.
Women who have to wear glasses take them off to get a
good look at a man. Men who wear glasses keep them on to
look at a woman. From this I deduce that women are more
8 Whose Wodd? and Welcome to It
interested in being looked at. Men are more interested in
looking. Everyone wants to make sure that I realize that men
are aggressive and women are passive. From this example
everyone can see that I do. Unless it means that women don't
really believe they see better with glasses on.
Now that it is clear that I can distinguish between men
and women, I would like to go further and say that there are
many ways in which I think women are inferior to men. The
present situation is an excellent example. The learned pro-
fessional men who view women with alarm apparently feel
in some way squeezed by women. Their reaction is to analyze,
to generalize, to formulate explanations, definitions, reme-
dies. Here we see man's basic drive to organize his surround-
ings, to make laws, to control, even to create.
Women who feel squeezed by men react quite differently.
More cautious by the demands of her biological nature,
woman instinctively decides not to rock the boat. In such cir-
cumstances, woman often says nothing at all. The squeezing
It is only fair to say that there are some women writers in
the group who must feel squeezed by women, too. I think
this is a mistake on their part in a world where there are
Some women are more restless, anxious, and insecure
than men because they can get in trouble in a way that a man
can't. I wouldn't call this exactly a biological inferiority.
I think it is a biological difference, whose societal implica-
tions would bear further analysis, since they are, in essence,
a deeply telling comment on society. This one. That's all I
seem to be able to deduce about that.
One good reason for all the woman-questioning is that I
am a sitting duck. It isn't nice to criticize someone in a
minority group. I'm equal now, so Fm not in a minority
group. Fm the only group that is equal and a fine big group
And here I think we should let bygones be bygones. I
didn't ask to be emancipated. That was my great-aunt
Now, am I clear about my role today? Yes, I have that
straight, too. First, I must be motherly, because, if I am not, I
make things difficult for the psychiatrists. This was made
clear in the Lite article referred to above. A Beverly Hills
psychiatrist was quoted as saying that it is becoming harder
and harder to find examples of simple emotional disorder in
the Los Angeles area. Character structure has broken down
in Los Angeles, because mothers are being fatherly and
fathers are being motherly. 'The old-fashioned tyrannical
fathers," he said, "produced children who at least had enough
character to become neurotic, and these children became
neurotic in ways that one could get at and treat. Now people
are becoming diffuse and treatment is much more difficult."
I am to be motherly enough to keep my husband fatherly
enough to make my children neurotic enough for the psychia-
trists to get at.
Serve delicious, well-rounded, attractive, ample meals, not
too ready-cooked. Don't let anyone get fat.
Don't work if married and have children. Work on some-
thing or I will be too dependent on children and at a loss
when they leave home.
While children are at home, train them in every way possi-
ble to cope with difficult world. After children leave home,
don't tell them anything I have learned by experience and
they haven't. Hold tongue and baby sit.
10 Whose World? and Welcome to It
Don't love son too much: this will make him a homo-
sexual. Don't love him with restraint: this will make him a
juvenile delinquent, the little bastard.
Don't have little bastard, even though even a sitting duck
may be somebody's mother. If so, give him up for adoption
and seek counseling.
Keep home fresh and immaculate. Have home look lived
in. Keep everything clean. Don't be compulsive about clean-
Use make-up to keep husband's love. Avoid make-up clog.
Be gay and spontaneous. Guard against expression lines.
Do good. Do it myself. Vote.
Have I forgotten anything?
Oh, yes, love, that is, love-making. Even if future husband
does not want to buy pig in poke, stay in poke until married,
owing to societal possibility (emotional connotations of
which are deeply disturbing to normal woman) mentioned
above. After marriage, do not be pig. Go whole hog. This
means, talk it over.
No matter what evidence have to contrary, do not consider
love-making normal human instinct. No matter what evi-
dence have to contrary, slightly inept performance cannot be
pleasure. Love, an art.
Something else is left out. Be good. This is the one that
stumps them nowadays. Under the circumstances, they have
worked out a clever formula: if you don't know what being
good is, be everything.
Everyone can see that I am fully informed. Does every-
one feel better?
There's just one difficulty. Something smells a little stale
to me, and I think it is my infinite variety. My uneman-
cipated great-aunt had a diversion which I lack: she
could be eccentric. I would like to have one tiny foible. I
would like to save string, be scared of the telephone, let my
heels run over, not wear gloves. Sometime I would like to
make a little scene, while I am still young enough to do it
without being described as a naughty old lady. I would like
to have one crackpot notion, one little way, or, just once, one
of my moods.
It may be my world at that. I just washed it, and I can't
do anything with it.
12 Whose World? and Welcome to It
Who the Hell Is Holy, Fair, and Wise]
JBh.T MIGHT BE TRYING TO BE NAMED Di-
nah, or Rose-Marie, or Mariana-in-the-Moated Grange, but
it's torture to be named Sylvia.
Anybody named Sylvia learns at an early age not to wince
when introduced at a party. Either people say, "Who is Sil-
via?" and beam delightedly at their pinpoint precision with
Shakespeare, or they say, "Sylvia's hair is like the night,"
and, in my case, guffaw, since my hair is not a bit like the
night. (I am a rufous blonde.) I also sit and suffer humor-
ous, meaning looks while some singer moos on about "U in-
giate Sylvie" who has convinced him that the pleasure of
love only lasts for a moment, while the sorrow of love lasts
Every time an author creates a really terrific heroine-
beautiful, intelligent, distinguished, mysterious— he leaps
on the name Sylvia. Even so down-to-earth a writer as
Upton Sinclair was carried away by the name. His Sylvia was
the belle of her state (state, not town) , and "suitors crowded
about her like moths about a candle flame." Yes, that old
muckraker, Upton Sinclair. Here is what seizes him when he
describes her: "I know that a heroine must be slender and
exquisite, must be sensitive and haughty and aristocratic. Syl-
via was all this, in truth; but how shall I bring to you the
thrill of wonder that came to me when I encountered her—
that living joy she was to me forever after." This is a fine,
fruity, aged-in-the-wood example of the Sylvia mystique.
I first became aware of the cross I bear when I was a
very small child, playing in a wood in Berkeley, California,
in a garment called a ''nature suit." This is not what it
sounds like, but a one-piece gingham play suit with longish
shorts and straps over the shoulders trimmed with rickrack.
At the time it was considered advanced, but healthy.
My mother and a strange lady encountered me and my
mother introduced me. The strange lady looked misty and
said, "Ah, yes, a wood nymph."
I was told this was the meaning of my name, and I
promptly became a wood nymph. I enjoyed it enormously,
but shortly thereafter for the first time in my life I took a
realizing sense of myself in a long mirror. I did not see an
ethereal fairylike sprite in flowing pale-green draperies. I
saw a small, solemn-looking, tubby, rufous (straight-haired)
blonde in a wrinkled nature suit. My yells of rage and dis-
illusionment were heart-rending.
Later on people decided that the perfect book to give me
was Lewis Carroll's Sylvie and Bruno. I admire Lewis Car-
roll very much, but Sylvie is second only to Elsie Dinsmore
as the most nauseating child in literature. (On second
thought, Bruno is worse. Sylvie at least can talk. Bruno says,
"Doos oo know?" and "Hurted mine self welly much.") Syl-
vie is described as "one of the sweetest and loveliest little
maidens it has ever been my lot to see . . . rosy cheeks and
sparkling eyes . . . wealth of curling brown hair [Sylvias
always have wealths of hair]." Sylvie is always standing on
tiptoe to kiss old people impulsively. She also indulges in the
same boring and cheeky logic Alice does (but Alice is not
sweet) : Bruno says he is busy as the day is long, and Sylvia
corrects, "No, no, you're busy as the day is shoitr
14 Holy, Fair, and Wise?
The worst is the lockets. Sylvie is given a choice of two
bejeweled ones. One is inscribed, ''AH will love Sylvie/' and
the other, "Sylvie will love all." She chooses the second be-
cause, "It's very nice to be loved, but it's nicer to love other
people." I don't believe I can go on.
Yes, I can. I remember my favorite scene. A boy named
Uggug, the incarnation of a horrid child, empties a butter
dish on Sylvie. She is noble about it.
Actually Sylvie and Bruno is not a children's book. A
large part of it is about some equally icky grownups who have
long conversations over tea about free will, duty, and syllo-
gisms. I doubt if anybody who gave it to me had read it. I
doubt if anyone who is not named Sylvia has read it, except
possibly a few Brunos. The aftereffect on them must be
Another of the traumatic experiences of my childhood was
when my school formed a glee club, which I joined as a so-
prano. Naturally, their first selection, to be sung before the
whole assembly, was "Who Is Silvia?". I was thirteen; my
class was the youngest in the upper school, and so I stood in
the front row.
I knew it was going to be awful and for nights ahead of
time I lay awake trying to get sick. There was no escape.
When the day arrived, I, dogged, spherical, and bursting with
rude health, had to stand there and shrill out, "Holy, fair,
and wise is she: The heaven such grace did le-end her." My
whole class went into paroxysms of giggles, and by the time
love was repairing to my eyes, the glee club was inaudible.
People in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where my grand-
parents lived, assumed that I was named after a figment of
my grandmother's imagination. My grandmother was a
novelist; she fell under the sway of the name; and she wrote a
novel that had not one, but two Sylvias. She had the inesti-
mable grace to create a heroine (the main Sylvia) who was
thirty-eight and had snow-white hair (a wealth), and to
let her, in the end, win the charming scholarly hero from a
younger and more dynamic lady. But she couldn't resist mak-
ing her "ethereal," "delicate," "transparently pale." They
laughed when they asked if I were named for her.
In actual fact my mother irresponsibly named me after a
little English girl she had met while traveling. The English
girl had a younger sister named Phyllis, and neatly enough,
my mother produced a Phyllis about three years after me.
Bad as it was to be named Sylvia, it was worse to have
Phyllis trailing after you, equally tubby, unspritelike, and not
When we complained, my mother added insult to injury
by explaining that in each case she had been somewhat at a
loss for a name because she was confidently expecting Benja-
min. She said she herself had always suffered because people
kept asking her, ha, ha, if she thought she had married the
My older brother called me "Saliva."
A little later, my father introduced me to a series of novels
by Compton MacKenzie in which the heroine was named
Sylvia Scarlett. At this point I gave up, as this is the Sylvia
to end all Sylvias. She acts with a Pierrot troupe, runs away
from home, gets married and divorced before she is twenty,
goes on the stage, travels all over the world, lives in sin, gets
mixed up in World War I, has a mystical experience, travels
with a troupe of brigands through the war-torn Balkans, and
finally cements relations with her true love, a highborn Eng-
lishman with a bar sinister, who was once a monk. I was of
course supposed to identify myself with this lady and enjoy
it, but I was jealous as hell.
Here is how Sylvia Scarlett talks at nineteen: "A man who
16 Holy, Fair, and Wise?
admires a woman's intelligence is like a woman who admires
her friend's looking glass— each one is granting an audience
A heroine named, say, Frances could never get away with
this sort of thing.
My worst experience was when a friend of mine (named
Frances) published a short story in which the heroine was
obviously me. People asked me about it warily, as if I had
done something a little indecent. I felt a little indecent my-
self because in the story I was going to bed with somebody I
have never met.
My friend had made it perfectly clear the heroine was me.
She even called her Sylvia— no bones about it. When I asked
her if she didn't think she might have changed the name,
she said kindly, "Why, of course, it was based a little on
you, but I never thought about the name." Sylvia, she felt,
is in the public domain. I can't help feeling that common de-
cency should have made her call the girl Cynthia, at least.
Addlepated people often call me that anyway— when they
don't call me Phyllis.
To crown this, I was making what I thought was a funny,
teeth-in-the-wind anecdote about this for some friends when
an ethereal, delicate girl (named Nancy) looked me over and
said with detachment, "As it happens, the heroine of the
novel I'm writing is named Sylvia."
She needn't have looked at me like that. I know I don't
look like her heroine.
Lately heroines have been getting less romantic, and I be-
gan to hope Sylvia would just fade away. Then I had a shock.
The name is so generic it's going on in another guise. What
I'm now beginning to find, particularly in women's maga-
zines, is this sort of thing: "A charming, personable young
woman I'll call Sylvia B. was referred to me because of severe
headaches. A change of glasses, treatment for sinusitis, and
the usual anodynes had been of no help. She had been sub-
jected to spinal tap, complete blood count, brainwave test,
urinalysis, skull X-rays and intensive eye examinations, basal
metabolism test, and a lengthy hospitalization." In addition,
the writer goes on to say, she didn't like her children, was
unenthusiastic about sex relations with her husband, fought
with her mother-in-law, and had no friends. Want to know
what was wrong with her? She was too neat.
I found the following item in the Wall Street Journal.
"Christmas bonuses on Wall Street will be relatively slim or
non-existent. 'When we probably won't pay a bonus to Syl-
via, you know how things are/ says a broker. Sylvia is the
firm's girl Friday— the head bookkeeper, scourge of the
clerks, chief worrier and No. 1 on any list of beneficences."
There's your modern heroine, the new Sylvia, and I don't
like her any better than the other. She may become an even
greater source of embarrassment. For a whole month, a large,
shiny, famous woman's magazine was on the front of all the
newsstands with a gleaming headline announcing, "Sylvia Is
If I ever write a novel and manage to stop myself from
calling all the horrid characters Frances and Nancy, I will
still try not to call the heroine Sylvia. But the compulsion
may become too great, and if it does, Sylvia of course will be
slender, exquisite, sensitive, haughty, aristocratic, ethereal,
holy, fair, and wise. This is enough to make anyone frigid.
It will, of course, be a modern novel, so I am working on the
man who will conquer this unfortunate condition. He is won-
derful. He is tall, poised, sensitive, manly, haughty, aristo-
cratic, holy, dark, and wise. I deserve him.
18 Holy 7 F air 7 and Wise?
What Have I Been Doing All This Time]
J^F YOU HAVE NEVER, WHILE READING (ON A
suburban train, say, every wicker seat filled by a man who
might always have been there, he inexorably growing gray
and paunchy in forever the same position, crowded in con-
ning folded long (in fours) the same inevitable newspaper)
the life story or interview with or take on some person sud-
denly now successful, with some production the cause: a
book published, a deal consummated, a performance hailed;
found then your mind, utterly without either direction or in-
tention, methodically noting the date of the first production,
book, deal, or performance; then placing below it the year of
birth, already only by subtraction from that one that pres-
ently is the one you are writing in the upper right-hand cor-
ner of your checks acquired, then again subtracting, to
come finally to the discovery of the leaden nugget of in-
formation that he (or she) was at that time ten years younger
then you (unutterably condemned to indistinction) are at
this moment; then you need not with this article go on, pro-
ceed, or even (any further word for that matter) continue.
But if you do in this weakness find yourself trapped or
entrenched (and if you must know, he— inexorably, in Ox-
ford, Mississippi, remaining being, and that not so surpris-
ingly, but still trenchantly, himself (of this, enough!)— was
twenty-seven when his first book was printed) , read on.
William Faulkner is not as disheartening as some, like the
eighteen-year-olds. I'll kill them. But I am older than twenty-
seven, and I haven't had a book published before. I haven't
swum the English Channel. What have I been doing all this
In his youth, Faulkner once said, he spent some time in
"undirected and uncorrelated reading." Could this explain
my wasted youth? My own reading was as directed and corre-
lated as a bulldozer. I read The Little Colonel. Then I read
The Little Colonel's House Party. Then I read The Little
ColoneYs Holidays, The Little Colonel's Hero, The Little
Colonel at Boarding School, and so on down to The Little
Colonel's Knight Comes Riding. I read Patty FairEeld.
Then I read Patty in the City, Patty in Paris. . . . Please
don't write and tell me which ones I've left out. There are
fourteen Little Colonels and I don't know how many Patty
Fairfields, and I am not being paid by the word.
There are going to be howls of outrage, but I'll say it: read-
ing all the Little Colonels is a waste of time. You can get the
good red meat (only it isn't, it's bu'ful 'trawberries an'
cream ) by reading one. More is self-indulgence.
Faulkner might have read one Little Colonel— there are
colonels in his background— but after that I'm sure he
skipped uncorrelatedly to The Decline oi the West. Now I
think of it, this may explain Faulkner. Anyone who wants
really to waste time may explore this theory for a Ph. D.
thesis: Two Little Knights of Kentucky: Prototypes for Un-
I'm sure Faulkner never had to play field 'hockey. He
didn't spend ten of the most formative autumns of his life
buckled into shin guards, panting up and down hockey fields.
20 What Have I Been Doing?
Field hockey is total waste because adult life provides no
opportunity to use its chief skill, which consists in hitting
other women on the shins with a wooden stick.
There is also shorthand, which I studied hard. Though
when called upon I never could read it, my shorthand be-
came so ingrained that I walked around town tracing signs
in shorthand with my right forefinger. Even today, when I
never use shorthand, I can't stop myself from doing this.
Every time I pass Schrafft's, I have to do the shorthand sym-
bol. You should see me doing First National City Bank
of New York, and "Wash your clothes with Surf and they'll
smell like sunshine." This sort of activity distracts one from
more uncorrelated thoughts.
When I was released by the educational authorities, I dis-
covered that the tendency painfully to acquire useless knowl-
edge had become a habit. I promptly learned all the leit-
motifs in the Wagner operas. I can hum "The Renunciation
of Love," or "Hagen's Perfidious Friendship" at the drop of
a Tarnhelm. I might say I have also spent time trying to fig-
ure out how many bodies, and when, were in the grave in In-
truder in the Dust. I'm still working on this. I think there is a
I have now realized that I am too old to begin again, be-
come uncorrelated, and get somewhere. I have come to the
conclusion that the only salvation is to learn to waste time
in the most complicated and difficult way possible. This
makes you feel better. Take each day as it comes, and, at its
close, say to yourself, "Today I wasted time as well as I
could. Tomorrow I'll do it better." Gradually your life will
be informed with new purpose.
This mechanism, offered here for the first time to the
troubled citizens of the Atomic Age, and which I haven't
been able to make up my mind whether to call compulsive
sloth or creative inertia, may well save more people from ex-
pensive sojourns in mental hospitals than any other single
finding, including finding no money.
Among artists compulsive sloth has long been known.
Painters have a built-in device: They clean brushes. Musi-
cians are perhaps less well equipped: there is not much they
can do except rearrange their music and talk on the tele-
phone. Writers, of all artists, are the most inventive. (I have
to stop for a moment and mend my pencil sharpener. A
piece just broke off, and it means a complicated gluing job.
I may have to go out and buy some special glue. This pen-
cil sharpener cost ten cents, but it was a good one. Waste
not, want not. )
Women writers clean. For example, they may carve the
dirt out of the cracks in the floor with a bobby pin, or read
the fine print on the Bab-0 can. Brass is excellent: If you
want to get the brass polished, invite a writer who is working
hard on an article to come and stay with you. A device I
particularly enjoy is cleaning the dirt out of all the o's, e's,
a's, etc., on the typewriter with a pin.
But with a little time and thought you can be much more
inventive. I admire a writer I know who has a tin tray which
he sprays with plastic paint. He always has to go out and
buy a new color because he doesn't like the one he's used
before. Another writer cleans up his yard. He collects all
the twigs, breaks them into exactly even lengths, and fits
them into large facial-tissue boxes, saved for the purpose.
Packed with twigs, the boxes are used as kindling in the
fireplace. Unfortunately, the supply is greater than the de-
mand. At last report he had eighty-two tissue boxes filled
22 What Have J Been Doing?
with twigs stacked in his cellar. The corners of the boxes
are carefully squared.
I have a writer friend whose apartment is so immaculate
that she is hard put to it to be compulsively slothful. But she
manages it. The other day, I found her contemplating a vase
containing, as a winter decoration, branches of black alder,
covered with small red berries. The berries had begun to
shrivel a little, and were not as bright as formerly. "I'm won-
dering," she said dreamily, "if they'd look better if I touched
up each berry with a little red nail polish/'
People who do not face up to things often call their com-
pulsive sloth their hobby. This is prevalent among New Eng-
enders, who are so rock-ribbed that they do not face up to
having any kind of sloth. One must, however, give New
Englanders credit for the evolution of an excellent device,
under the guise of a hobby. This is genealogy. By its na-
ture, work on it can go on almost indefinitely (depending on
how you feel about Adam and Eve), and the equipment,
blank books with holes in them through which you poke
your ancestors further and further into the dark backward
of time, is peculiarly, even ecstatically, satisfying.
Another advantage to calling your compulsive sloth a
hobby is that, if it becomes extensive enough, you can be an
authority. A New Englander, with whom I have a generic
genealogical connection (he's my brother) has by this
method become an authority— perhaps the authority— on
the records of figure-skating competitions. One of his friends
collects the numbers on obsolete railroad engines.
Do not think for a moment that it is only unusual people
like writers and New Englanders who can be compulsively
slothful. I know a simple housewife, with two small children,
who does all her own work, who has created one of the most
brilliant forms of compulsive sloth I know, since, in addition
to being slothful, it makes all the other mothers in the neigh-
borhood feel inferior. While she is making an adult-sized
apple pie for her family, she makes small apple pies for her
children and any neighborhood children who wander in. She
makes them in the caps of Coca-Cola bottles. First she digs
the cork out of the bottle caps. Then she makes little circles
of dough, which she cuts out with the gadget for making
watermelon balls. She cuts up little bits of apple, dots them
with tiny bits of butter, sugar, and cinnamon, and puts on a
little tiny top crust, which she pierces with a pin.
To rest up, my friend reads The Letters of D. H. Law-
rence. She reads them over and over again, because they are
restful. When Lawrence felt burned out, she tells me, he
went into the kitchen and made marmalade. Probably he
had no bottle caps.
If you become really experienced, you can indulge in
snowballing or concentric compulsive sloth. The easiest way
to begin is to straighten things. You must throw away the
pile of newspapers. But there was an advertisement you
meant to cut out, and you always mean to read the News of
the Week in Review. So you have to go through them.
While looking for your ad, you come upon one for soap
flakes. Maybe soap flakes should be added to your shop-
ping list. You go into the kitchen to see how much soap
flakes is left. Just enough to wash that blouse. You get out
the blouse, but it has a button off. You get out your sewing
basket, which needs to be straightened out, if you're to find
a button. This means winding all the loose thread back
around the spools and securing it in those little slots. While
doing this, you turn up a small sample of material which
you were planning to use for a slip cover for your couch.
24 What Have J Been Doing?
You take it out, and put it on the end of the couch to study
the effect. While studying the effect, you realize it would
be better if the room weren't so messy. You must throw
away that pile of newspapers. But first you have to look
This is a simplified example. If you work on it, you can
snowball compulsive sloth into a whole day's waste.
Everything seems to be immaculate. Shall I sift the ashes
in the fireplace? Paint my old trunk blue? Rearrange the
books according to the age of the author when first pub-
lished? I'm on the verge of having to do something uncor-
related, which might turn out to be constructive.
Wandering Around the House
Get Away from Me with Those Christmas Gifts
JtL don't want to throw a monkey
wrench— even a hand-crafted personalized monkey wrench
you can plant ivy in— into the works and grace of the holiday
season, but there are certain things that if anyone gives them
to me for Christmas I will scream. I will not scream from
rage, but because I will be losing my grip on reality. Has any-
one but me been really reading the catalogues and the gift
(never "present'' ) sections of the magazines? Or has it been
building up so slowly that no one has noticed?
Something phrenetic, sinister, and crazed is going on in
the gift world.
In case someone should think I am the one who's crazed,
I will list the things in the gift line I am prepared to put
up with. I don't want them, but I won't fly off the handle if
I get them. When you read my list, you'll see how reasonable
I am, and will, I hope, be convinced that I haven't made it
up about the other objects— the ones that are out to get me.
For example, I accept ivy— and the fact that it can be
planted in anything: a cup and saucer, a coffee grinder, a bird
cage, a cranberry picker, a spoon rack. Ivy has a reason for
being— to take up the Americana slack. An Americana item
such as a cobbler's bench or an ox yoke which is of no use to
anyone can be an ivy planter.
I accept dispensers. Dispensers are things it is more com-
plicated to put the thing into than to leave it where it is. But
dispensers are a part of our national life. Americans are the
original canister kids : we love to waste time taking the coffee
out of the perfectly good can it came in and putting it into
another can which matches the one the flour is in. We like to
send in coupons and get a hand-painted can to put the can of
scouring powder in so it won't look like a can of scouring
powder. The powder has to go through two sets of holes
and soon the whole thing is clogged up. But dispensers are
here to stay.
As gifts, dispensers usually contain Scotch tape or stamps,
and they are sometimes made in fourteen-carat gold to give
the woman who already has everything (including an iden-
tical brass Scotch-tape dispenser from last Christmas).
Incidentally, the woman who has everything has gone so
far that all you can give her now is something vulgar.
There are two ideas I find irritating, but which I will toler-
ate. One is that everyone in this country has melted butter
with everything, and that every household must have a
quantity of individualized small pipkins, piggins, firkins,
and noggins to serve it in. The other is that everyone likes
to eat off what we used to call skewers, and what are now,
for some reason, called kabobs. One can always use the ka-
bobs for what one used to use skewers for, to truss a chicken.
I will go along with the fact that, as a nation, we can't
leave the telephone alone at Christmastime. I anticipate a
plastic cover in a decorator color (any color except tan, which
is always called "natural" ) . There may be a lamp to go on top
of it and a secretary to go underneath (a secretary is some-
thing you write on) . This is a magnetic age, so the secretary
will be magnetized, and will grip a magnetic pencil. Once I
30 Get Away from Me
get the pencil loose, I lose it as easily as any other, but I'm
not fussing. I like things that stick to things, and I'm waiting
for the time when the telephone gets a magnetized base and
can be attached to the family bulletin board. These days,
family bulletin boards are trying to achieve togetherness with
anything they can get.
I accept the fact that television has given the gift manu-
facturers a shot in the arm. At present, they are still getting
rid of the hassocks the college girls wouldn't buy, under the
name of television viewers. Soon, television and ivy will meet
—but let's cross that bridge when we come to it.
I'm not even complaining about the axiom gifts— those
eight balls, and jiggers made in the shape of thimbles, so that
you can pour someone "just a thimbleful." I've puzzled over
how they originate and decided that, quite by accident, some-
one says to a gift manufacturer, "Little pitchers have big
ears," and the manufacturer quickly makes a little china
pitcher with two great big china ears. Because it is so small
that it won't hold anything, it's either called a collector's
item or a conversation piece.
I had better explain the fine distinction here. A conver-
sation piece is similar to a collector's item, but it is a little
more transient, sophisticated, and likely to have to do with
drinking. Pink-elephant beer mugs and Diamond Jim apron
waistcoats are conversation pieces. Salt and pepper shakers
made in the shapes of Laurel and Hardy, and miniature
mustache cups, IVs inches in diameter, are collector's items.
A third category, when the copy writer doesn't wish to be so
heavy-handed, is described as "comment-provoking." This
includes tired glasses, made to sag on one side, in which you,
you joker, are supposed to serve the fourth round, and plastic
ice cubes with realistic bugs frozen in them.
I will accept (just barely) that white head, called Paddy
O'Hair, which sprouts green grass for hair and eyebrows.
I will accept even supererogatory gifts, by which I mean
bath mats with footprints on them.
As you can see, I'm reasonable. Calm. Quite calm. I won't
make trouble. But there comes a point-
Take the gifts that complicate.
There's a tape measure with a battery light for measuring
in closets. I can't figure out what it is I should be measuring
in a closet. It could be the closet itself, but why have I got
the door closed?
There's a gadget to be plugged into the cigarette lighter of
your car in which you can roast two frankfurters in their
own juices in seven minutes. Presumably you've been driving
along an American highway, and you can get a frankfurter
at least once every mile, and you can get it in a roll, with
mustard, a napkin, and possibly even on a plate. You receive
the hot-dog sizzler for Christmas and where are you? Shut
up in the front seat with mustard all over everything, napkins
blowing out the window, and rolls on the floor. And next
year, you'll have to turn it in for the new sizzler which
splits its own rolls, and has a squeezable plastic mustard
But these are mild compared with the gift which is
"double-purpose" or "two-in-one."
There's the double-purpose coffee-mill lamp. It is a lamp
for a bedside table on top of a real coffee grinder. Either
you take the coffee beans into the bedroom to grind your
breakfast coffee or you unplug the lamp and take it into the
kitchen. Or you sleep in the kitchen.
32 Get Away horn Me
There's another lamp which is a china pig bank. There's no
way to get out the money without breaking the lamp.
There are red and green port and starboard lanterns, which
are also whisky decanters. When you're not pouring out of
them, you put them on the port and starboard ends of the
mantelpiece. Then you spend the rest of the winter trying to
figure out which way your mantelpiece is sailing.
There's the folding hanger with the clothes brush on the
end. If I had one folding hanger with a clothes brush on the
end, where in all the wide world would it be when I wanted
to brush my suit? Holding up my winter coat. How can I bear
to have all folding hangers with clothes brushes on the ends,
but what other solution is there?
There's that bell which really rings which is a Martini
mixer. Do I want my Martinis wired for sound, and if I do,
how can I stop myself from experimenting until I find out
how far I can ring the bell without spilling the Martinis?
The double-purpose device has crept into gifts for children.
Any toy or piece of children's equipment can be made
double-purpose by attaching a music box. The theory is that
the music soothes the child into behaving like an angel.
The musical toothbrush holder, for example, plays a gay
tune when the brush is removed. This, they say, will en-
courage Junior to brush his teeth. In my opinion it will
encourage Junior to remove the brush, put it back again,
remove the brush, put it back again, remove—
Another is the bed lamp with music box. It has a shade
that tilts, and when you tilt it the light turns on. At some
point, it plays a tune which will "make children want to go to
sleep." What child worth his salt would go to sleep when he
could be tilting a shade back and forth to make a light go
Double-purpose doesn't stop with double. Take ivy in a
cobbler's bench. Soon you have ivy in a cobbler's bench with
a lamp attached. Then you have ivy in a cobbler's bench with
a lamp and a place for a highball glass. Ash trays. Pencil
It's the same with dispensers. Scotch-tape dispensers get
paper-clip trays on top. Then they have paper-clip trays and
places to put ball-point pens. Then the pen is a ball-point
This is the malignant gift.
There's a classic example. Some years ago, someone
dredged up some otherwise useless odds and ends of Plexi-
glas, sharpened one edge of each piece, and sold them as
windshield de-icers. This is all right— in fact it's American
ingenuity. Next Christmas there were some left over, so
he put initials on them and sold them (for a little more) as
personalized windshield de-icers. Well, you wouldn't want
your windshield de-icer to get mixed up with someone else's.
The following Christmas he bored holes in them, stuck in
little chains, and brought out personalized windshield de-
icer key rings. You won't believe me if you haven't been
following closely, but at present we are at the stage of the
personalized windshield de-icer key ring with miniature
A normally adjusted American ought to be able to turn on
the ignition, whip out the key, jump out of the car, de-ice the
windshield, and use the compass to track his way back to the
driver's seat. If it were night, he might need a flashlight to see
the compass, which will give you an idea of what he will get
But next after that they will attach a hot-dog sizzler. Or a
music box. . . .
34 Get Away from Me
I can't go it. They're overestimating my emotional stabil-
A year or so ago, someone brought out a realistic-looking
set of false teeth (politely called dentures) which you wound
with a key and which went yakity-yakity-yakity. Next year,
they elaborated. They produced the denture bottle opener.
It fastened to the wall and came complete with three gum-
colored wall screws. "Ridiculous, gruesome, and fun! They're
so real-looking that Grandpa will snap his teeth just to be sure
he's got them." Next? A death's-head bottle opener which
glowed in the dark so you could open beer bottles while
watching television. See how it's building up? See what is
coming? This year, while the television rages on, those
teeth will be going yakity-yakity-yakity, glowing in the dark,
and snapping off bottle caps. And grass will be growing out
How to Make Chicken Liver Pate Once
^m UDGING FROM THE WOMEN S MAGA-
zines, one of life's great experiences is when someone says,
'This is simply delicious. Do tell me how you make it."
Beaming, the hostess promptly replies, indented:
Take a level cup of flour. Add one medium egg, lightly
beaten, a scant tablespoonful of grated Parmesan cheese,
and a complete recipe follows, down to
This serves six.
What I don't understand is how these ladies start from
absolute scratch. They never have dabs in their iceboxes.
They never put the leftover string beans into the macaroni
and cheese, to get rid of them and see what it would be like.
They just make macaroni and cheese, and they never have
any of that left over, which they get sick of seeing around
and wonder how it would be in the lentil soup.
My difficulty is that I can never tell where one recipe stops
and the next one starts. This means that my most delectable
dishes are not only irrevocable but impossible to duplicate.
When, as— yes, I assure you— does happen, someone says to
me, "How did you make this?" my explanation is so long and
complicated he or she stops listening.
It must be because I live alone. I always have dabs. The
36 How to Make Chicken Liver Pate
only time I use things up is when I go on vacation and turn
off the icebox. I am on one nonstop recipe from one summer
to the next.
One summer I made the best casserole you ever tasted by
putting everything in the icebox in it. The basis was a dab
from a Casserole Kitchen dish, plus a bit of cream cheese,
some lettuce, a can of beer— various things. It was such an
extraordinary and new taste sensation that on the Shore
Line train to Boston next day I tried to write down its ingre-
dients. Then I remembered that the friend who came to
dinner the night before was also going on vacation, and
she'd brought the contents of her icebox. I never could re-
member exactly what they were, and by the time I saw her
again neither could she.
Thus was a great culinary triumph lost to the world.
But I can remember my Chicken Liver Pate. I must tell
you about it. Yes, I must. It was simply delicious. Everyone
Sylvia Wright's Chicken Liver Pate
(That sounds conceited, but they all do it, and it certainly
isn't anyone else's.) Take one pound of hamburger.
(Yes.) Have a friend who is coming to dinner to have
hamburgers and doesn't come. Have one hamburger all
by yourself, feeling somewhat aggrieved, even though it
is the colds season.
It's no use. I can't do this part indented. I have to tell it
as it happened. Maybe I can get indented later on.
I had leftover hamburger. I went out to dinner the next
day, and the day after that it seemed to me the hamburger
had better be cooked before it spoiled. I was in a hurry, and
I thought I'd slosh it around in the frying pan with some
onion, and if I didn't eat it all up, I could use the rest in spa-
Then I discovered I was out of onions.
I didn't start this in the right place.
I should have mentioned that some days before I'd had
people in for cocktails and had pitted black olives as an
hors d'oeuvre. I overestimated my guests' capacity for pitted
black olives, because they didn't eat them all and I'd already
poured the salt water which preserves them down the drain.
So when I couldn't find the onions, it occurred to me to won-
der what hamburger with pitted black olives cut up in it in-
stead of onions would be like. The olives were beginning to
dry out anyway.
It wasn't very good.
So I still had leftover hamburger, with pitted black olives
in it. Quite a lot.
Next day I felt I was in a hamburger rut, and I bought half
a pound of chicken livers. But I am thrifty by nature, so I got
some onions too, thinking I'd add them to the hamburger
and make it a little more palatable.
While I'm about it, I don't see why people in groceries
have to be so withering when you ask for two onions. Not
two pounds, two onions. I don't have a very large icebox, and
I try to buy only what I need.
I had some chicken livers for dinner, but half a pound is
too much for one person to eat up (oh, well, they were
frozen— I couldn't buy a quarter of a pound) so there were
some left over— maybe five, maybe six.
I should have mentioned that I cooked all the chicken liv-
ers, not wanting to make the same mistake I did with the
hamburger. I suppose you'd like some directions on that.
38 How to Make Chicken Livei Pate
Dip chicken livers in flour to which salt, pepper, and a
soupcon of curry powder have been added. (The curry
powder was just a notion. I'm scared of it and I stopped
before I'd put in enough to even have it taste. But I don't
like to leave out anything, because you never can tell.)
Fry in bacon fat. Well, I think most people know how to
cook chicken livers. And served with a green vegetable-
why not creamed chopped spinach?— chicken livers make
a delicious quick meal.
It's beginning to sound like a real recipe.
The next day (as you can gather, my social life wasn't very
sparkling at this point, which is when I concoct my most
inimitable dishes) I thought I really had to finish up that
hamburger. Another thing, mine is a very small kitchenette
in a small apartment, and when I use the food grinder I have
to attach it to a bookcase, which I have to take some of the
books out of, so when I get steamed up to the point of using
the food grinder, I try to get some good out of it and do sev-
eral things at the same time.
I decided first to grind up the leftover chicken livers to
make chicken liver pate, and then the onion for the ham-
You know, I think this is where the recipe really starts.
Sylvia Wright's Inimitable Chicken Liver Pate
Grind up five or six cooked chicken livers in— let's see,
which one was it? Not the nut-butter cutter, but the next
one bigger. Come to think of it, that's the only one I ever
use. The others fall on the floor. Grind up and add to
chicken livers about a third of a fairly large onion.
Of course, later I used the rest of the onion, ground up, in
the hamburger, as well as half of the other onion.
Add salt, freshly ground black pepper, and sherry to
chicken-liver mixture. I don't know how much sherry I
put in. Let's say "to taste" except I don't think you should
quite be able to taste it. There's a stage where you can
almost taste it, but actually you taste chicken liver more.
(I'm giving up this indenting business. While I'm about
it, I think I'll give up parentheses), too. To not quite taste.
Please note, Irma S. Rombauer, Clementine Paddleford,
Mary Frost Mabon, et al. A new cooking direction doesn't
happen every day.
Adding the onion to the hamburger made me realize
that I still had quite a bit of hamburger, and before I could
stop myself— I felt I hadn't really gotten everything I could
out of the food grinder— I put some of the leftover hamburger
into the food grinder, ground it up again, and added it to the
chicken liver pate. Only about two tablespoonfuls. Now you
see why I had to start with the hamburger.
That's about all there is to my chicken liver pate— my
dear, the easiest recipe imaginable— but I'd like to point
out an interesting side effect. The little bits of black pitted
olive that were in the hamburger looked, when they got into
the pate, just like truffles. So I had made Chicken Liver
Pate with Mock Truffles. I'm sure it's the first time any-
one did. I never think truffles taste of much of anything,
and by this time neither did the olives, so it was quite all
The chicken liver pate was really pretty delicious by now,
but it seemed a little dry. I didn't want to upset the delicate
balance by adding any more sherry, so I thought I'd try a
little mayonnaise or cream. Somehow, I didn't have either
in the icebox, but I found some leftover tomato soup. I forgot
to get that in earlier. It's the time sequence that confuses me
when I'm trying to give a recipe. It was canned tomato soup
with milk added, but not as much milk as it says on the can.
40 How to Make Chicken Liver Pate
I had a dab of milk, you see, and I happen to think it tastes
better that way, and of course I'm always hoping I won't have
things left over. I put in about a tablespoon of the soup, and
decided the pate was perfect.
As I mentioned, everyone said it was delicious, and it must
have been because there wasn't any left over.
Would you like to hear about my Beef and Spinach Tarts?
No? Please let me tell it. I'll be quick.
I ate some of the hamburger with onions, but it seemed
mere after Chicken Liver Pate with Mock Truffles, and I
couldn't finish it. There was a dab left. There was also a dab
of creamed chopped spinach. So I made a little pie crust out
of half a box of pie-crust mix and cut it up into more or less
diamond shapes ( I roll my pie crust on the coffee table) . I
mixed the leftover beef and spinach together and used it to
fill the pie crust diamonds.
Bake in a moderate oven until delicately brown. This
recipe makes six. No,
(I forgot I wasn't going to try that (or those) again.) I
think it was seven, including the undersized, rumpled one.
You know, somehow they just weren't delectable. There
was too much spinach and not enough beef, and I must con-
fess I threw most of them away. I couldn't think of anything
to put them in. Some cooks might have poured a cheese
sauce over them and served them up as a meat-saving main
dish, but I don't believe in gilding the lily to that extent,
particularly when it isn't a very good lily to start with. Be-
sides, I didn't have any cheese.
But I'm not discouraged. It so happens that I have half a
box of leftover pie-crust mix and half an onion and a little
tomato soup. I think I'll just see what else there is in the ice-
Soap and the Opera
.ODERN LIFE DEMANDS BIZARRE
adjustments: one of mine concerns cleaning.
Every Saturday afternoon in winter I clean my apartment
to the radio broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera. I like
opera. I listen to it. This is the difficulty.
If only one opera in the Metropolitan repertoire were right
to clean to, once a winter I could breeze through my chores
logically and precisely. I never can. Every Saturday, I leap
from dusting to mopping, from scrubbing to polishing,
abandoning a cloth here, a mop there, in a conscientious at-
tempt to stick with the opera and clean at the same time.
If I were not saddled with the Metropolitan, I would clean
in the following order: straighten up the room, dust Venetian
blinds, clean window sills, brush lampshades and upholstered
furniture, dust surfaces, mop floor where rugs aren't, vac-
uum rugs. Clean kitchenette. Clean bathroom, including
washing floor. Odd jobs— polishing brass and silver, cleaning
windows and mirrors— are sandwiched in as they fall due.
This order makes sense: it chases the dirt from above to
below. But I have had to give it up, because operas don't
work this way.
Consider the Marriage of Figaro. It opens, as an opera
should, with an overture. Overtures, though many composers
seem to think otherwise, are for tidying up. The overture to
the Marriage of Figaro is one of the best: it impels you to a
42 Soap and the Opera
gay scurry, proper for the purpose. On to the Venetian
You can't. When the curtain goes up, Figaro is measuring
and planning and Susanna is trying on a hat. Their music is
for rearranging your furniture in different positions, or for
trying on a hat, and preferably for both. And you don't have
much time because soon Figaro swings into "Se vuol ballare,"
one of the best woodwork-washing pieces ever composed.
The opera is barely started and already my cleaning plan
has been thrown off.
(Someone is wondering about bedmaking. The answer is
that the opera starts at 2 p.m., and I don't want anyone to
think that I am in the habit of leaving the bed unmade all
morning. But it can happen, and if it does the bed should be
made first. Composers do not realize this: bedmaking music
always occurs when the opera is well along. The first suitable
moment in the Maniage of Figaro is Cherubino's "Non so
piu cosa son, cosa faccio." This aria demands that you make
the bed from scratch, that is, take everything off, turn the
mattress, and change the sheets, because it begins with nerv-
ous vitality and turns tenderly reflective in time for smooth-
ing and tucking in.
Mozart's operas are full of fine bedmaking arias. In Don
Giovanni, one might choose "Deh vieni alia finestra" for a
studio couch. Plump the pillows to the plucked accompani-
ment. For a king-sized double bed, the Catalogue Aria.)
How would I like an opera to open? With Venetian blinds
—that is, music which requires delicacy and reaching— that
is, a coloratura aria. "Caro nome" would be excellent.
Venetian-blind music is ticklish. When one is on a steplad-
der and a soprano flats, one grasps for the nearest thing
handy. Once during the Mad Scene of Lucia, I brought down
a whole blind. An example of Venetian-blind music par ex-
cellence is the Queen of the Night's "Die holle Rache," but it
demands great balance and control. On the other hand, Fi-
ordiligi's "Come scoglio" in Cosi fan tutte should not be
used for blinds. The gaps are too wide. If you stay with the
music, you will fall. During this aria I keep my feet on the
ground and dust alternately a picture and the baseboard
below it. This is what it is for.
One should do Venetian blinds first, when one is fresh and
alert. But how many operas open with a coloratura aria? One
must fit the blinds in as the composer wills. Wagner, during
the Ring Cycle, wants them dirty. The forest bird is his only
Venetian-blind moment, though if one has mastered a sort of
scooping motion, one can manage a few slats while Briinn-
When there is no overture the opera's opening chords
establish one's cleaning mood. Ai'da, which contains splen-
did cleaning music, opens badly with some questioning
chords. They question the whole idea of cleaning. One sits
down and wonders if it might not be better to put off clean-
ing until the next day and the Philharmonic.
The thing to do is to bide your time through "Celeste
Ai'da," the trio, and so forth, while making something quiet
and thoughtful like an icebox cake. The real cleaning music
begins with the entrance of the king, Ramfis, the priests, and
Tutti. "Or, di Vulcano al tempio muovi" is a magnificent
bathroom-floor-scrubbing piece, if the bathroom is not too
big or the floor too dirty. With "Ritorna vincitor!" one
must rest again or finish the icebox cake, for Aida is of no use
until she gets squared away with "Numi, pieta," fine for
mopping up the water you left on the bathroom floor.
But if the icebox cake requires using an egg beater for
44 Soap and the Opera
whipped cream (one of mine does), I would advise making
it during the next scene. Here we are in the temple and the
priestesses are singing to Immenso Ftha. I am very much
against doing anything during the opera which provides a
counternoise, but the opening of this scene is true egg-beater
music, swivelly, low-keyed, and not so fast that it tires your
wrist. However, the scene is also good for polishing silver,
particularly some piece which has small details (song of the
priestesses) , and large plain areas (more vigorous song of the
An even better example of egg-beater music is Senta's
song in the Flying Dutchman, but this opera is not in the
repertoire at present.
I find it interesting that two composers treating the
same subject can provoke such different cleaning jobs. In
Ai'da, anyone who invokes either Isis or Osiris almost cer-
tainly provides brushing music. One cannot brush to "O
Isis und Osiris" in the Magic Flute. For a long time I
considered both this invocation and "In diesen heil'gen
Hallen" too noble to clean to, but recently I came to the
conclusion that one might use them for cleaning something
extremely rich and grand, like a large Italian-marble coffee
By now you will have begun to grasp the intricacies of
this problem. There is some good cleaning music in almost
every opera (except Pelleas et Melisande, where there is
none whatsoever), but the composers scatter it planlessly
here and there, and often, when they get hold of a nice
cleaning bit, show a frivolous inability to stick with it until
I can finish whatever it is I am doing.
What a master was Offenbach of all sorts of cleaning
music! And how considerate a composer!— Tales oi Hoff-
mann is studded with injunctions like "Je commence," "Si-
lence/' "Attention/' or "Voila," handy indications that
one is about to have to switch jobs, which allow a moment
to put away the broom and get out the dustpan. Yet how
haphazardly is his cleaning music placed!
Act I contains, not one, but two, stirring brushing pieces,
but in the middle of telling the story of Klein Zach, Hoff-
mann interrupts himself to dream of Stella. I must interrupt
myself to cut the stems of flowers. Act II opens with a splen-
did scrubbing or mopping march, but the scrubbing or
mopping must be started and stopped three times. In be-
tween I do the Venetian blinds with Olympia, and sort the
laundry to a little waltz so intoxicating that it must be
used for something abandoned. There is the Barcarolle, per-
fect for dusting or polishing. (If one does not dust to some-
thing lyrical and leisurely, one misses rungs.) In Act IV
there is Frantz's song for complaining about cleaning. 1
There is even some nervous, ominous music for taking medi-
cine, or one's pulse. One can get almost anything one can
think of done during Tales of Hoffmann in the most sense-
less order imaginable.
Sometimes a composer makes almost impossible demands.
The first act of Rigolctto requires superhuman spryness.
Chords of grim warning, which almost say "Get on. Get on/'
open the opera. Cleaning is irrevocable. Gay brushing music
quickly follows, and almost immediately thereafter, "Questa
o quella," music for scattering. There are two possibilities:
sort the laundry or clean your rugs by strewing on them one
of those damp powdered rug-cleaning messes. Now you
1 An interesting and useful selection. I can think of only two others of
this type: Berta's aria in the Barber of Seville, with its appropriate "O che
casa in confusione/' and (stretching a point) Leporello's "Notte e giorno
46 Soap and the Opera
need something to brush the rug powder in to, but instead
you get a quiet and graceful little minuet with the Duke
singing and you switch quickly to arranging flowers or iron-
ing. Rigoletto begins to tease Ceprano and you begin
brushing. You brush and brush and you keep it up at a furi-
ously brisk tempo through "Tutto e gioia, tutto e festa." Sud-
denly Monterone enters to disturb the vile orgies. Gloom
descends and with it a change of job— for instance, clean-
ing under the radiator. If you have been at it as Verdi
would wish, you will have to. A lot of rug powder has gone
The trick with Rigoletto is not to get up during the chorus
at the end of the act. The next act opens with Sparafucile,
whose music is very low down and also meant for cleaning
under something. But frustration is ahead. "Caro nome" is
coming up, and if your radiator, as is customary, is under
your windows, you will get it all dirty again when you climb
up with Gilda and wipe the dust off the Venetian blinds.
With practice (I have learned to put a newspaper over
the radiator during the scene between Rigoletto and Gilda
and the identification of Walter Malde) one could adjust
to the first act of Rigoletto. Practice is not what one gets,
because next week we may have Gotteidammeiung, an
entirely different kettle of drums.
It begins with Norns and Norns are impossible to clean to.
Then it continues without a break for at least an hour and a
half, almost all of it possible cleaning music including top-
notch bits like the oath of blood brotherhood (brush the
hearth.) But it is too tiring to clean steadily through this act
and the next one and the next one. In the second act, we
have Hagen and Alberich, both cleaning-under-things char-
acters, a workout with the broom (vassals), very heavy
scrubbing ("So soil es sein! Siegfried falle, etc.") , and a good
The longer Wagner operas require another change of
habit. I spend the first act of Gotterdammerung on some
slow dirty job I have been putting off. For instance, I take
all the burners off the stove and clean them with steel wool.
I clean everything else in sight slowly, using Waltraute's
more somber utterances for whatever is burned on. This
job requires running the water in the sink occasionally,
which in normal circumstances I would only do during the
Opera Quiz. But with the Rhine theme Wagner has sup-
plied snatches of built-in running-water music. If I have
to run the water for any length of time, I use Siegfried's
One helpful feature of the Ring Cycle is those moments
when someone sits down and tells, not only the whole story
of his life, but of everyone else's. They resemble the synopses
published with serials, and I think Wagner must have needed
them to refresh his mind about who had borne whom by
whom, where everyone was, or who had recently become a
dragon. In these passages, one zips through all the leit-
motifs from the previous opera, usually ending balefully
with "Das Ende!" For example, in the second act of Die
Walkiire, Wotan gives a run-through of everything that
happened in Das Rheingold for the benefit of Briinnhilde
who wasn't around in the first opera.
In some cleaning jobs, like washing the outside of win-
dows, it is difficult to hear the radio, and these synopses are
just right for them. If you have washed the inside of the win-
dows during Das Rheingold f next week you can pop out to
do the other side as soon as Wotan sits down. But the Met-
ropolitan also seems to be aware that repetition is involved,
48 Soap and the Opera
because they are likely to cut. In this case, just as you get
settled on the sill and make a few swipes, you hear "Das
Ende!" in the distance and have to come in again.
Parsifal is a real problem. It is not good cleaning music,
it is tiring, because we go through everything twice, and it
comes in early spring when I am in need of sulfur and
molasses. Paisifal makes me want to sit down.
My solution may not be possible for everyone. I have an
old-fashioned desk with four large drawers. Each drawer has
two large brass incrustations with handles and one large
keyhole incrustation, as well as other bits and pieces of
brass here and there. I unscrew them all one by one, take
them off, and polish them. Then I screw them back on. One
should wear rubber gloves during Parsifal. It is hard on the
What I want for the close of an opera is as specific as what
I want for the beginning, and I get it just as seldom. First I
want a long, dull intermission, for vacuuming and for run-
ning a bath. By now I am pretty dirty. Then an elevating
finale to listen to while soaking in the bathtub. The end of
Gounod's Faust is perfect: the harmonies are so uplifting
one hardly needs soap. I also like the sextet at the end of
Don Giovanni. Its opening is fresh, exact, and sudsy. Fugues
are very nice for washing. Even though one is worn out with
the terror of the Don's finish and the effort of cleaning, one
feels that life can begin anew. But unfortunately it is not
preceded by an intermission, and it is much too short.
How could Mozart have known that I don't like to take a
bath in five minutes?
In the fullness of time and the march of the operas, every-
thing will eventually get done. But one must accept the fact
that there are certain pieces of music one cannot clean to,
and that one may have to wait some time before being able
to go at a specific task.
Besides Norns, one cannot clean to the following: Erda,
Gurnemantz, Boris Godounov either giving political instruc-
tion about alliances with Lithuania or going mad, and
Electra. If you try to clean to Electra, you will have a nerv-
ous breakdown. Vassals, Valkyries, apprentices, choir boys
(Tosca), sailors, Figaros, and any happy peasants provide
good cleaning music.
In Italian opera anything which begins zitti, zitti, or basta,
basta, or piano, piano, or even piano pianissimo, as in the
opening of the Barber of Seville, is intended for brushing.
The perfect selection for carpet sweeping is the chorus in
the first act of J Pagliacci, which opens ''Din, don." Al-
though this chorus seems to be an effort to get everyone into
church, I know it is for carpet sweeping because it is intro-
duced by several vigorous "Andiam's," intended to get me
The Siege of Kazan in Boris Godounov is for sweeping
with a broom. The Anvil Chorus in II Trovatore stumps me.
Clearly it is meant for beating rugs in the back yard, but this
is a dated form of cleaning, not possible in a small apartment.
There is one moment in the opera repertoire when you
can run a sewing machine. If you can do it while giggling
and thinking about love, so much the better. This, of
course, is the atelier scene in Louise.
Puccini arias are perfect for ironing. One needs a lush,
lyrical, isolated selection to get one through a cotton blouse
or dress. Puccini is particularly good if one does not have a
steam iron and has to dampen things. One can cry automati-
cally, gently, and without despair, which helps in the damp-
But the Flower Duet in Madame Butterfly should be
50 Soap and the Opera
saved for extra-special efforts to fix up your place, flowers,
candles, and even, if you have one, running up a flag.
Salome's Dance should be used for going through the
closet and throwing out clothes. If you have the courage,
it will serve you well, because you have to throw something
out. The frenzied drive of the dance prevents any second
thoughts like 'This might come back into fashion," or "I
could change that neckline."
Anyone who has not heard from me for a long time should
not give up hope. The Metropolitan is reviving Eugen
Onegin, and I will be my usual adaptable self during the
My compromise with the Metropolitan is complete, but I
continue to dream about the perfect opera. In fact, I am
working on the libretto, and any composer who is interested
should get in touch with me. There is one proviso, and he
won't like it: I must be allowed to say how long each aria,
chorus, etc., will take. But it will be inexpensive to produce,
since it will require only one set— my apartment.
It opens with a spirited overture, during which the curtain
is down. Behind it, I am rushing around getting the place
neat enough to be on public view. When the curtain rises, I
am discovered on top of a stepladder cleaning the Venetian
blinds and singing my coloratura aria. The aria will be novel.
It will begin on a high note and work its way down. It will
be an aria da capo, because I have three windows, one of
them (the middle section) longer than the others. During
the tumultuous applause, I will brush off the window sills.
The baritone enters. He has evil designs on me, the first of
which is to make me stop cleaning and pay attention to him.
I spurn him. He argues. I explain. He argues some more.
This is a brisk recitative, and I brush off the top of the radia-
tor. After this, the baritone launches into an aria of denun-
ciation and rage, which calls on his lowest chest tones. I clean
under the radiator. When I get up, we sing a contrapuntal
duet, during which I try to put the dustpan and brush back
in my closet and he tries to stop me. Thwarted, he exits, and
we hear him singing "Maledetto" outside the door. (Excuse
me, it will be the English equivalent, which I regret to say
Tension and suspense are more thoroughly built into the
plot of this opera than that of any other. If Baritone manages
to prevent my getting the apartment cleaned, the opera can-
I am upset by the baritone, and I am aware that I must
have a mezzo-soprano. During a delicate intermezzo, in
which descending sixteenth notes on the violins indicate my
uncertainty, I go to the telephone and call my best friend,
who lives upstairs. She says she will be right down; she is
right down, and she is a mezzo.
I greet her and we begin a charming feminine duet, dur-
ing which we discuss the behavior of the baritone (with
whom she is secretly in love, but I suspect it), and whether
Glass Wax, Windex, or soap and water are better for clean-
ing mirrors and the glass over pictures. She demonstrates
how she does it (I can use a little help). I show her my
method. We comment on both methods. The aria is cli-
maxed by a happy burst of agreement in a major key— her
method is better.
After a brief orchestrial interlude, we finish the mirrors
and seize the opportunity of their being sparkling clean to
look at ourselves in them. Then, in a slow, plaintive duet in
the related minor, we wonder about our looks and whether
the tenor and the baritone love, respectively, us.
This is the Mirror Duet, and as far as I know it is unique
52 Soap and the Opera
in opera, because we both have our backs to the prompter.
I will arrange the mirrors so that we can see him.
A comic interlude ensues with the entrance of the Fuller
Brush man, a basso, to allow me to clean the baseboards. In
the delightful Brush Song, characterized by the refrain,
"Accept this sample/' with its amusing bassoon accompani-
ment, he displays his wares, and attempts to get Mezzo to
buy a Venetian-blind brush. The three of us then sing a gay
trio, in which Mezzo tries to explain that I use a dustcloth
for the blinds; the Fuller Brush man continues to argue; and
I finish the baseboards.
The Fuller Brush man departs, and I go into the kitchen-
ette to wash the cloths I have used to clean the blinds, the
mirrors, and the baseboards. While I am thus occupied, my
friend sings an aria about the baritone with a fugal orchestral
accompaniment to which I scrub. This is another effect
which I believe is unique in opera. It may, in fact, be impos-
Enter the tenor. Mezzo, who is tactful, exits to a scurrying
motif in the violins. Tenor has brought me a bunch of free-
sias. While I cut the stems and arrange them in a vase (I
want a spurt of running water music here), we join in a ro-
mantic duet in praise of flowers, spring, our dreams for the
future, and our earnest hope that I will get the apartment
cleaned by the end of the afternoon so that the opera can
end and we can go out and have a delicious dinner. Omi-
nous chords in the brasses suggest that Baritone will do
everything in his power to prevent this.
I am sorry if your interest has been aroused, but I am not
going to tell you any more. Someone might steal my plot. It
is intricate; something is going on every minute, and I clean
everything. I even clean during the choruses, when a group
of my friends comes in, because they have heard me on the
radio and want to see how I am coming along. Wait a min-
ute, who's on the radio? Am I cleaning to myself?
We had better not explore this.
The opera ends with the famous (it will be) Bath Sextet.
The principals, except me, are gathered in my living room. I
am in the bathtub. I am visible to the audience, but not to
the other singers, a tantalizing scene, which might sell out
the opera. Someone is singing to me through the half-open
bathroom door, and you will be surprised to learn who it is.
Baritone. I have had a revulsion of feeling against Tenor,
who is more interested in my getting my cleaning done than
in me. Baritone is singing to me about me. I am singing to
him about him, and about how nice it is to take a bath. Tenor
and Mezzo have discovered interests in common, and they
are singing about how nice the apartment looks and what the
best cleaning methods are. They are happy. Baritone and I
are going on to higher things. The Fuller Brush man is trying
to sell me a bath brush.
Who, you would like to know, is the sixth person in the
sextet? That is the cleaning woman whom I am going to
hire to come in next week.
54 Soap and the Opera
Dear Fiduciary Trust Company
. OU SOUND CROSS. HOW, YOU COLDLY
ask, can anyone have spent so much more money than she
told the Fiduciary Trust Company she was going to? Don't
think, you intimate to me, that you can play fast and loose
with funds, even if they are your own funds.
Your tone of letter indicates that for you this is standard
procedure. You assume you are something quite usual, even
something I should accept. I can't. I find you peculiar.
Look at it from my point of view. Here is our family, own-
ing a delightful, if dilapidated, house by the seashore. I own
a sixth, and my brother owns a twelfth, and one of my aunts
owns a third, and the other of my aunts owns five-twelfths.
Things are simple.
My aunt who owns the third dies, and things are still
simple because I am expecting to inherit it. Suddenly you
leap into the picture, and it's your third of a house. I have in-
herited it, but you have it, in trust, for me.
You don't know anything about the house. You've never
seen it. You don't intend to see it. You don't know its beau-
tiful view of the Sound ("We must cut down that dead
tree") . You've never been swimming here ("It's the getting
in that's difficult"), or felt the breeze on the piazza in sum-
mer ("This must be a scorcher on the mainland"). You
don't know the house's individual smell— wood, salt air,
soap, and something else. You haven't struggled with the
bad habits of the privet roots: they crawl into the drain-
pipes and awful things transpire (I use this exactly) in the
cellar. And you have no notion of my Aunt Maria, who knows
where everything is and the minute it isn't. It is Aunt Maria
who established how things are put away for the winter:
ink bottles are put in the potties that have covers, in case
they freeze and burst. If they do, you can always wash the
potties, and if they don't, there is your ink for next summer.
Incidentally, you will be glad to hear that the bottle of
Noxon which burst last winter did no damage to your third
of the laundry.
Through no virtue of yours or effort on your part, you ac-
quired a third of a summer house in a desirable location.
Were you pleased? Did you politely thank anyone? You
carped. You told me trust companies don't like property
that doesn't produce income.
We amiably decided that we would rent for the summer
and produce income. We did rent and we did produce in-
come, but we had to make a few alterations— rewiring,
etc.— which we had been putting off. We happened to spend
more than we produced.
Do you commiserate? Do you say, "Better luck next time?"
No, you want to know why you weren't told of this ahead of
time. I didn't know ahead of time myself, but this doesn't
satisfy you. I have to explain.
Meanwhile you sit in New York, and take a two-per-cent
commission from me for making me explain how I spent
some money that is really mine, but that you keep and take
two per cent of for letting me spend and explaining how and
why I spent it.
56 Dear Fiduciary Trust Company
Do you wonder I sometimes ask myself if a third of me is
Even a third of me couldn't make a long-distance tele-
phone call every time I had to throw out a broken bottle of
Noxon. Sometimes it was physically impossible for me to
do so, like being in the act of tying up mattresses which had
to be done over while being told about the rot under the
On an island, things are complicated: they have to go to
the mainland to be fixed. I couldn't manage the two mat-
tresses on my bicycle, so I had to order a truck to take them
to the boat.
Even though I am not a trust company, I am thrifty, and
I had decided the ticking would do for a while longer. The
minute I had called the truck, I realized that when the mat-
tresses were delivered to the boat, they would be thrown
down on the dirty wet deck. To avoid the ticking being
ruined, I had to wrap them up.
Have you ever tried to package two mattresses in a hurry
so their ticking won't get dirty in the hold of a boat? If not,
this is what happens. Just when you get a mattress curled
around and roped with the old clothesline, the clothesline
breaks. The mattress gives you a smart blow and knocks you
on the floor (we had been on the bed). Downstairs, Jack
Peterson, the carpenter, is calling to you that the rot under
the piazza is much worse than we realized, and will you please
come and look at it. Being what he is, he sounds both doomed
and gratified. At this point, if you were not a company, you
That explains why you were charged for a third of a new
clothesline. I used old sheets to cover the mattresses, so
you're not out anything on packaging. Aunt Maria saved you
money, too. She keeps old hair pillows and mattresses, be-
cause it is good hair and may come in handy. So, although
there was an extra charge of forty-four cents for carting the
pillows to the boat, you were saved about six dollars per
mattress for new hair.
The pillows were before your time, and I don't believe a
third of them really belonged to you. I could make a case for
your owing the rest of us something on the saving on hair.
I intend to be magnanimous, but I point this out in case
you think your accounts are any more complicated than
mine. I may have to take into consideration that Aunt Maria
will think the pillows were before my time, too, in which
case I will have to deduct my sixth of the saving from m^
share of the total cost. I think that's what I'll have to do.
What's more, you saved on bicycle wrapping. Don't worry
about what happened to the mattresses on the way back. The
mattress company packed them in brown paper envelopes.
I kept the envelopes in case they should come in handy, and
when the tenants were about to arrive and I had to put my
bicycle away in the cellar, one of the envelopes was just
right for putting a bicycle away in a cellar in.
I am saving the other mattress envelope, of which you
own a third, and if you have any use for it, I will be glad to
send it to you. If, that is, you will pay the postage.
Now that you have forced me to go over the way we do
things, I realize that you may find us strange. It is unsettling
enough to have to justify one's habits to another person, who
has a few of his own. How can one exDlain them to a com-
pany, which has nothing but? Some of mine are acquired,
some inherited, and some were thrust upon me, like the
58 Dear Fiduciary Trust Company
mattress. You would understand this better is you could stop
being a company for a moment, but I know that would be
I will try to explain.
Like many places and families, this one prides itself on
being unique, and is only a little peculiar. The people who
come for the summer are rich, and the people who live here
all year round are comfortable from looking after the rich
ones. The two groups are not as different as they think, except
that from June 1 5 to Labor Day, the local people have no
time to talk, and the summer people have plenty.
But now is the season when the air is so clear that the
houses on the mainland are miraged, when the ocean is a
deep blue, and the long grass is turning lavender; now is the
season when the silence of no summer people settles over
the island. It is a time for leisurely conversations about fish-
ing, rich people, bittersweet, and other things we have here,
a time for sitting by the fire in the evenings, a time for ex-
plaining to the Fiduciary Trust Company. (Please bear with
me. I'm giving you atmosphere, so you will realize that Fm
as real as you are. )
It is also the season for looking over other people's houses
and gardens. If, like us, they put things away carefully, it is
only mildly interesting: when you peer in windows you see
old sheets draped on things. The gardens, however, are
gratifying. I never take anything if I think someone is com-
ing back for a weekend, unless I know the tomatoes wouldn't
last till then. But, observing such courtesies, one enjoys good
salads in the fall.
Knowing that you may misinterpret this, I would not have
brought it up, except to make clear to you that I have sur-
veyed a lot of houses. I have looked at other people's rot, and
in some newer houses it is much worse than ours. This ex-
plains why you have no reason to complain about spending
a hundred and ninety dollars on fixing one section of the
porch, after seventy years. There are twelve other sections,
and you must get used to it.
We don't call it a house. Even though it has eight bed-
rooms, we call it a cottage. Cottages are ample and rambling
and were built about 1880. They have acres of roof on differ-
ent levels, from which shingles are detached in hurricanes,
creating work for carpenters. You haven't run into this yet.
It is even more expensive than everything else here, which is
very. A can of salted peanuts costs forty-six cents.
One reason why things are expensive is that, like nuns and
sailors elsewhere, workmen come in pairs. There are always
two carpenters, two painters, and two plumbers. In the case
of Jack Peterson, this coupling is sound. You would like him
because he knows ahead of time that there is more rot than is
visible. Termites are inevitable to him. If he didn't come with
another carpenter for mitigation, I would cut my throat.
It might be easier for me if you got someone to pair off
(No matter what he says, there are no termites in the cel-
lar. Try as he would, all he could find was a few rotted boards
he said were a termite trap if I didn't remove them. )
The painters come from the mainland, and arrive off a
fishing boat at twenty minutes of eight while I am wandering
around the house in a wrapper in a fog. Since they are here,
there is little point in my telling them it isn't a good idea to
paint in a fog. I wouldn't in any case, because they are
gloomy already. It is a long time before they will be home,
and they need each other for comfort.
The plumbers wouldn't have to come in pairs except for
the crawl space, which is under the kitchen and has always
60 Dear Fiduciary Trust Company
presented a problem. The head plumber is big, burly, and
equable, and I am in love with him, because in the kind of
life I have been leading, a serene plumber is a father figure.
You might have been a father figure, too, if you had wanted
to, but you're too picky. The head plumber is much bigger
than I am, and I had trouble in the crawl space myself when
I was considerably smaller. Once he is in there, he has to
have someone to hand him things. This is as good an ex-
planation as I can give as to why it cost sixty dollars to fix
the pipes under the kitchen sink.
It didn't occur to me to question things coming in pairs,
because so many things in the house do. There are two Delft
tiles, held up by hooks, on either side of the living-room
mantelpiece, which also has two vases and two candlesticks.
Every winter the tiles, which were bought by my grandpar-
ents on a European trip, are put away in a certain box,
wrapped in a certain newspaper. It is in Dutch, is dated 1895,
and the only headline I can read announces the death of
Friedrich Engels. Aunt Maria again, of course. Aunt Maria
has a coin purse with slots, and she always puts the coins in
heads up and facing in the same direction. She gets uneasy if
she has, say, Jefferson and Indian-head nickels, because the
heads look opposite ways. I know about being punctilious,
and there is no need for you to behave as if I had never heard
Most of the pictures in the house come in pairs. There are
two Romes (Colosseum and Castel Sant' Angelo) , two sepia
English cathedrals, two colored steeplechases, two hunting
dogs, and two Dumas characters fighting duels, one indoors,
one outdoors. There is Courtship and Marriage.
Evangeline, however, is unique. Evangeline is an engrav-
ing, "Dedicated by Permifsion to Profefsor Longfellow."
"Sat by some nameless grave and thought that perhaps in its
bosom, / He was already at rest and she longed to slumber
beside him/' it says underneath. There are weeping willows
and she sits on the gravestone staring at the ground. This
picture has always been in my room, and has made me
mournful for years, particularly when it is raining.
I mention Evangeline to illustrate the quality of my dif-
ficulties in getting the house ready for the tenants. If I had
done more painting and carpentering myself, I might have
saved money. But I simply didn't have time. Throwing things
out and putting things away took too long.
Neither sounds difficult and I'm sure neither would have
occurred to you. They don't show in any way a trust company
can see, like money.
Aunt Maria made a special visit to help throw things away.
She knew we had to.
But she had a sentiment about Evangeline.
I've already told you about old hair pillows.
One does not get rid of a chair with a broken cane seat,
even if it has not been fixed in fifteen years, when it matches
a whole chair. They go together.
Old laced canvas bathing shoes may come in handy for
guests who haven't brought their own, not realizing our rocks
There was the old-fashioned large round tin bathtub which
was always kept under the double bed in the downstairs spare
room. Usually a single male guest has this room, because
Aunt Maria thinks it is nice and separate for him. He is sup-
posed to find the old tin tub convenient to put his bathing
suit in after swimming. That he never does is no reason to
get rid of it.
There was the thing, and even Aunt Maria didn't know
62 Dear Fiduciary Tiust Company
exactly what it was for. It was small, square, and made of
wood, with one flat side and an open box built onto the
bottom of the flat side. Or top, as the case may be, since it's
doubtful which side should be up. Aunt Maria couldn't re-
member what it was for, but, now that she had seen it, she
said, she realized it had always been there. It was a nice little
thing. She had a sentiment about it. Perhaps you could stand
a plant on it.
Those small embroidered squares, all different, go under
finger bowls. One might use finger bowls sometime.
The candleholders with springs in them are for the dining-
room table. They hold paper shades with dangling bead
fringe, and a silver filigree shade goes on top of that. It
seemed too bad when they had been kept for so long—
For your information, all these things are now in the large
closet on the third floor.
I find Aunt Maria catching: when I dug out my grand-
father's large glass tobacco jar, I decided it would do for
cookies. You will not be much interested to hear that it does
nicely for the kind you want to keep moist, but not for the
kind you want to keep crisp. Unfortunately, this happens to
be a device one doesn't need at the seashore.
Just because I took a little time out to make cookies, don't
jump to the conclusion I wasn't concentrating. I concen-
trated the whole time on saving money, but it did no good.
Our house has intransigences.
Take the kitchen. I admit I should have told you ahead
of time about cutting through into the china closet. I didn't
decide until a carpenter was there (shelves) and then it was
too late to consult you. Now you own a third of a doorway in-
stead of a third of a slide, the little opening that was there
This is why we went so far over on the estimate for lino-
leum. Once a doorway was created, the linoleum couldn't
just stop at the doorway: it had to go on. And if there was
linoleum in the china closet, there had to be linoleum in the
kitchen pantry, too, to balance.
Now the reason why the linoleum was not linoleum, but
vinyl tile, which is more expensive, was because I was con-
centrating on saving money. So was my cousin, who was help-
ing me decide on colors. The fact that neither of us could
stand the colors the other picked didn't increase the expense.
We couldn't stand the expensive ones, too.
I had never thought about linoleum, and when I did I
realized that no one ever had before. Linoleum is one of the
few things in this world that never looks like itself. It looks
like sculptured rugs, Aubusson carpets, bricks, finger paint-
ing, or Jackson Pollocks.
I had just decided on a Jackson Pollock, which was called
spatter pattern, when they told me that linoleum lasts ten or
fifteen years, and must be waxed regularly.
I was amazed. What was the point of it?
I pointed out that I never waxed the floor in the kitchen,
which, being wood stained dark, didn't show the dirt. I
pointed out that it had lasted seventy years. Jack Peterson
said wood floors were insanitary, because of dirt in the cracks.
I said we didn't eat off the floor, and no one had died. He
likes to argue for its own sake, so here he got off the track.
He told me the only really good heavy-duty floor was wood,
which they use in the kitchen of the Club where twenty or
thirty people work.
That proved my point, but not to him, because he hastily
told me that at the Club they washed the floor twice a day
with soap and boiling water. Was I prepared to do that? he
64 Dear Fiduciary Tiust Company
He and everyone agreed that linoleum shows the dirt and
has to be washed and waxed and wears out quickly, and was
going to be a job to lay because our floors are wavy, but 7 they
said, if you rent, you must have linoleum. Linoleum is pretty.
By this time, I didn't like any of the linoleum patterns,,
and my cousin wanted something pink, which I couldn't
spend even half my life with. We had to compromise, and
we did, on black and white tiles, which looks like tile, but
aren't. The white tiles look as if something gray had been
spilled on them, which means they don't show the dirt, ex-
cept that something comes off if I rub them with steel wooh
But, they tell me, if I don't fuss at it and wax it once in a
while, it may last my lifetime.
So next to wood, which has lasted my lifetime, it seemed
the best thing. Can't you see now that I tried?
I'm not sure if this explains everything, but it shows why
it has taken me so long to. One of my problems has been how
much to tell you: I would have a better grasp of this if I
weren't confused about what or who you are.
I was clear that you are a company, an odd company be-
cause you are set up to mind, not your own business, but
mine. This means seizing any money you can get and invest-
ing it for my benefit at three or four per cent— strange to start
with because if I could seize any money I could get six per
cent for it. But you can't help that. You are what the law says
you must be, and the law is precedent. You, therefore, are
precedented. I, of course, am unprecedented. Some sort of
polar relationship should be possible.
As you may have gathered, I decided that my way in this
relationship should be to be as unprecedented as possible.
As yet I'm not very good at it. But I felt it might be develop-
ing for me, and good experience for you.
But just when I get things going, you throw me off. You
behave like a person. You accuse, or something like that.
Are you clear about yourself, Fiduciary Trust Company?
I have at hand (it has taken a little time to write all this) your
annual report. You begin by quoting an "eminent physician"
who once said, "We must . . . treat the disease according
to the best medical knowledge. But we must also never, never
forget that we are taking care of a human being." I gather he
needed to reassure himself at certain moments, such as when
he was treating a human being with parrot fever. You go on
to say that "the relationship between doctor and patient ap-
plies equally to our relationship with our clients." Then you
talk earnestly about your spirit of helpfulness, sympathy,
understanding, and so on.
What makes you think you're a doctor? It's insulting—
I'm not sick in relation to you. Why are you pretending to be
a person? Is it a backhanded attempt to get my sympathy?
If it is, I consider it beneath you and U.S. Steel and vari-
ous other companies that have tried this with me. As a
company, you should be asympathetic. This would re-
lieve the pressure on me as well as on you.
Perhaps you should sit down and have a files-to-files talk
with yourself. You're limited, you know, by definition. You
can't be everything. Remember that you are a company,
and don't go creeping around corners like a human being.
I refuse to feel sorry for you. After all, as Aunt Maria says,
you chose to do it. You could have been the Cockaigne
Light and Power Company, Erewhon Underwear, or Uto-
pian Utensils. You had a choice and you chose to be the
Fiduciary Trust Company. Though limited, it sounds like
a solid thing to be. Have the courage of your corporation.
66 Dear Fiduciary Trust Company
My Kitchen Hates Me
JSESrfVER SINCE I HAD TO LIE FLAT ON MY
stomach on the kitchen floor to see if the broiler was lighted
in our new stove, IVe wondered about the modern kitchen.
I don't say it isn't a dream kitchen with space-saving fea-
tures to give the busy housewife (me) extra leisure. I don't
say it isn't a hundred per cent more efficient that the old
kitchen. But I'm used to inefficiency. I don't recognize
efficiency until it rises up and smites me.
That is just what it keeps doing.
The oven of the new stove is somewhere around your
knees. You light the broiler by sticking a match through
a little hole in the bottom of the oven. It's drafty down
there, and the first time the draft blew out the match. This
is why I was flat on the floor peering into the broiler. When
I saw it wasn't lighted, I tried again. Gas had collected, of
course. It smote me.
The old stove was black, and looked distinctly dated,
like nineteen-twenties dresses. In fact, it looked like a nine-
teen-twenties girl, perched on long, thin, bowlegged legs.
The oven was at the left of the burners, and the bottom of
it was on the same level You could look a popover in the
eye without snapping a garter or slipping a disk.
Before that stove I dimly remember another, also black.
The whole of it was warm the whole time— it contained a
real wood fire, which made the kitchen quite cozy. You
could put food in a pan, stick it on the stove, and warm it
up just a little and it never stuck to the bottom of the pan.
You always had boiling water ready because there was a
teakettle at the back. You could dump the garbage in and
let it burn up.
Things are more convenient now. You just push the gar-
bage down the drain (except large bones) and then you put
on the cover, turn on the water, and wait. Don't relax,
though. Once a cherry stone got caught in the part that
grinds, and it sounded like Bastogne. I've had a nervous tic
These are nervous times and one must accept them. Like
the infrared broiler. The first time I turned it on, I fancied
it was a sort of death ray, such as Killer Kaine in Buck Rog-
ers in the Twenty-fifth Century used. I wondered what the
symptoms of death-ray poisoning were. Fve gotten used to
I do have a scaly place on the back of my hand-
Having a nice white easy-to-keep-clean porcelain sink is
something every modern woman should thank her stars she
is not her grandmother about (my grandmother paid three
dollars a week for someone to wash the dishes and do a few
other things, like ironing a clean starched petticoat every
day, but anyway). I don't regret the old soapstone sink one
bit. It was handy to be able to sharpen the paring knife on the
edge of it. You could use it as a scrubbing board when you
washed the dish towels. Of course you had to keep it
scrubbed up with Sapolio. But it never looked clean the way
the porcelain ones do after you've scrubbed them as hard as
you can with something with foaming action.
And dishwashers. They are another of the fabulous things
68 My Kitchen Hates Me
in modern kitchens. I love the dishwasher. I was so fas-
cinated the first time we used it that after it got well started
I leaned over it to listen to it churning. It didn't occur to
me it would open up and bop me in the nose. Or pant warm
damp air all over me.
Sometimes I feel these gadgets hate me. The dishwasher
leaves little spots all over the silver just to spite me. No, no,
I don't want to go back to the old soapstone sink. Though
you could hear yourself think in the kitchen in those days.
I truly do love the washing machine. There is some-
thing both conscientious and abandoned about the way it
swivels its internal hips while churning up all that black
water. The black water is the trouble. Once you have a wash-
ing machine, you wash things it never before occurred to
you to wash, and it always makes the water as black as possi-
ble to demonstrate what a pig you were pre-washing-ma-
chine. You become its minion, and it begins to lay down the
law about what it will and will not do. I tried to feed
a small rug into the wringer of mine, and it chattered at me
Of course I don't want to go back to the dirty, germy old
days when it would never have occurred to me to wash a
I was glad to see the last of the kitchen table. Who wants
a kitchen table when they can have a working surface? A
working surface is much better to work at— standing up. It's
hard to sit at. You can't get your legs under it. But why
should I make myself old before my time?
Anyway there isn't anything to sit on.
I'm being unfair— there is something. It's a sort of chair,
but it's not very comfortable because your feet dangle and
the back is so short that it barely supports your coccyx. And
70 My Kitchen Hates Me
it's a little too high for the working surface. When I looked
more closely, I saw it was really a stepladder waiting to be
opened up. If you're not quite sure just where a thing is
going to open up. . . . Finally, I gave it a hard yank. . . .
I was supposed to get a new prescription for glasses anyway.
And I don't suppose anyone but some fussy one like me
minds sitting down in a nice clean dress where your feet
have just been.
It's so clean in a modern kitchen that the people who
designed the chair ladder must have difficulty imagining
anything getting dirty, even the bottom of your shoes.
At one time, modern kitchens became too clean. They used
to be mostly white porcelain, but now they're pink or green,
or even wood color so they will have the warmth of the old-
fashioned kitchen. We used to have an old-fashioned kitchen
which was entirely wood color. As a matter of fact, it was
I'm not so old-fashioned that I believe in dirty old wood
all over a kitchen, but it had one advantage: you could put
up a hook. There's no place for this in a modern kitchen.
I know because I went around with a hammer and nail,
tapping the kitchen's chest, and all I did was to chip off
paint and then reach bedrock— some sort of metal.
One isn't supposed to need hooks in a modern kitchen.
But what about pot holders? In our old kitchen we kept
them on a hook next to the stove. There isn't any such hook
in the modern kitchen. There aren't any pot holders either.
My theory about this used to be that just before the maga-
zine photographer took the picture, his assistant ran franti-
cally around, removing all the pot holders. (This is the
same assistant who rushes around putting baskets— bowls
are out of date— of fruit on things, and sometimes in his
mad career tossing a bunch of parsley or radishes onto a
working surface so you'll have a notion of what goes on in
Suddenly it came to me. The modern housewife doesn't
use the old-fashioned pot holder. She wears one of those
aprons with a quilted mitten, which is a pot holder, attached
by a long tape to the belt. There's a pocket to keep it in when
not in use. This is quite an invention if you have a hook-
iess kitchen. Now I think of it, it opens up all sorts of
possibilities for hanging things on the housewife when
there is no place for them elsewhere. 1
Dish towels were another problem. They, I discovered,
hang inside something you have to open, where they're
out of the way. They used to be out of the way and handy
hanging on a wooden rack above the sink.
Modern kitchens are wonderful about places to put things,
though I never seem to find any place to keep paper bags.
Modern kitchens are solid cupboard— I beg your pardon,
storage unit. This gives them a somewhat bleak shut look,
which is why you need the fruit. The other thing you can
have is an eggplant.
But that's the only food you see. Everything else is shut
away in a storage unit. Our grandparents, who didn't know
about step saving, were crude by comparison. They left
things in full view. In my grandmother's house there was a
screened cupboard, which you could see right into. In my
1 1 have given these two paragraphs serious thought, and I see nothing for
it but a footnote. Since I first wrote this description, someone has invented
magnetic pot holders. (Throwing them at the stove is one of the best games
in a long time.) If I thought I could keep up with the manufacturers, I
would rewrite the two paragraphs, but I don't. By the time this book comes
out, they will have invented a plug-in housewife on casters, and the whole
article will be obsolete.
72 My Kitchen Hates Me
grandmother's house, if you wanted a can of tomato soup
you had to walk clear into the pantry and take it off a shelf.
Things are simpler now. You open the chair ladder and
climb on it and open the storage unit and get out the can
and get down from the ladder. And there you are. All you
need to do is shut the ladder up again and put it away.
Any fool ought to be able to remember to shut a storage
unit. Or any fool will get concussion of the brain.
You've seen those pictures with white lines zooming
around showing how many steps the homemaker saves in a
modern kitchen. I'm wondering how they figure out the up
and down. I bet they don't.
But there's no denying that modern kitchens are space-
saving. Some of them have a thing called a peninsula, which
swoops into the middle of the kitchen. It has both counter
space on top and storage units underneath.
This reminds me of the slide in my grandmother's house.
The slide was a little door about a yard wide, at counter-
space level. When it was open, there was a continuous
shelf extending from the pantry (off the kitchen) into the
china closet (off the dining room) . The cook put the dishes
through the slide, and the waitress got them on the other
side. When there wasn't any cook or waitress any more,
things became rather a scramble. I would put a dish through
the slide from the kitchen side, and then race back through
the kitchen, through the back hall, into the front hall, into
the dining room, into the china closet, get the— it had been—
hot dish, and take it back into the dining room.
Modern conveniences obviate such unnecessary steps.
The peninsula is an improvement. If you haven't someone
on the other side to push things to, you just walk around it.
You walk back. . . .
In my grandmother's house we gave up and ate in the
kitchen. This is just what you do in modern kitchens,
usually at a snack bar. Some snack bars are a new kind of
working surface which you can get your legs under. But
you must become adjusted to the notion of never looking
the rest of the family in the face. There are fewer germs this
way. At a snack bar, the family lines up like birds on a tele-
graph wire, facing a wall (with ample electric outlets) and
with their backs to the homemaker, whose life all these
new devices enrich. I haven't figured out what she does if
the snack bar is the only working surface. Makes sand-
wiches in the sink, I guess.
I feel sure that in the kitchen of the future they'll iron
out the bugs I've mentioned. There will be a special bug-
ironing machine. They haven't yet perfected a modern
kitchen which is efficient enough so that you can leave it
alone and eat in the dining room, though they get around
this by calling a corner of the kitchen a dining area. But
there's hope. I notice that some of the most modern kitchens
have a little door at counter-space level between the
kitchen and the dining room. You just push the dishes
through. They've also invented a whole table you can push
into the dining room after you have set it in the kitchen.
Pretty soon maybe you'll be able to push the stove through
and just cook your meals in the dining room.
Think of the steps that would save.
74 My Kitchen Hates Me
/ Wont Do It Myself
-J^> CAN MAKE MY OWN PLASTIC PLANTS,
copper pictures, paintings without a brush, and a winter
coat out of a blanket, if I happen to have an old blanket
that looks like a winter coat.
I can hang my own wallpaper, personalize my own glass-
ware, lay mosaic tiles, make my own Murray Space Shoes,
construct a wheelbarrow planter box or a provincial swivel-
top TV stand.
I can make things I never knew I needed, like a garbage-
can coaster, by following the instructions in Bulletin No. 3
provided by the Shellac Information Bureau as a public
service. I can finish by waxing and buffing the garbage-can
coaster— I, who have never even waxed and buffed a gar-
If I send for a book called Basket Pioneering, and some
reed, I can make Tasket Basket, the Tray of Many Uses,
one of which must be to hold taskets, once you have dis-
covered what they are.
I can learn to play the Wurlitzer organ by myself in one
evening, and it doesn't surprise me that I am by myself.
I can even decorate myself myself: with the Deluxe Shell-
craft Kit, I can make more than seventeen different pieces of
exotic shellcraft jewelry.
I learned about these things, and many others, at a Do-It-
Yourself Show. I left the show feeling that I could do any-
thing myself. I merely needed to buy something, often called
a kit, take it home, and knock it up, which means putting
everything in it together.
This handy method saves the manufacturers the trouble
and expense of crating or packing whatever it is, as is. In
return for the saving, they offer me free the opportunity to
feel creative, as long as I follow their directions letter by
I started with a lamp. When finished, it was to be one of
those illuminated paper beehives standing on very small legs.
It arrived in a neat, cardboard envelope, knocked down flat
like an opera hat, with instructions attached. (An opera hat is
an artifact which might be considered a forerunner of the
do-it-yourself movement. )
The first instruction was to open up the shade until it
was fully expanded and turn the larger opening toward me.
Unlike an opera hat, the shade had no device which kept it
popped out, so I was holding it apart with both hands, when
I peered over my shoulder at Instruction 2, and it said,
"Take a leg."
There was a period of a certain breathlessness. Legs stuck
out between my fingers in all directions like knitting needles.
There were more directions. I shuffled the legs. I crossed my
fingers. Something happened and a moment arrived when I
was holding several things in place at once and the directions
said, "Lock with knurled nut."
I was lost. What was knurled nut, and where? I won-
dered if it were the thing I had thought was "nibble on
socket," now well buried in legs. The dictionary was on the
other side of the room and, if I had been able to get to it, I
would have had to turn the pages with my teeth. I couldn't
move my hands.
76 I Won't Do It Myself
Then I discovered knurled nut. It was locking my fingers
There is only one way to be creative when you knock
things up. This is to create yourself six fingers on each hand
and three sets of teeth, one to turn pages, one to pick up
knurled nut with, and the third to grit. All these are neces-
sary in the final acrobatic apotheosis, which always depends
on locking everything in sight together with one nut. If you
can locate it, it has just fallen off the table onto the floor.
I decided it might be less intense to make things from
scratch, so I got some patterns for making furniture. The
patterns consist of a number of oddly shaped pieces of
newsprint, identified by different numbers of round holes
pierced in them. In the directions, the manufacturer doesn't
refer to the patterns as 0, 00, 000. Instead, he supplies
you with an identification chart in which you discover that
is A, 00 is B, and so on. This extra step is to distract your
attention so you won't be annoyed at having spent fifty
cents or a dollar for some pieces of newsprint. And remem-
ber that you can always try them in your player piano.
But a lot of thought has gone into the directions. They go
Trace top, bottom, and sides of pattern A on 34-inch-thick
plywood. Cut 4 pieces 11 5/4 X 25/19 inch. Channel out for
sliding doors, using hand router plane or dado set in table saw.
Note: the width of the grooves is 15/62 inch. The depth of the
grooves is 62/15 inch. Chamfer top, bottom, and front edges.
See Diagram 1. Draw parallel line 1 21/4 inch from top edge to
outside edge of B. Bore hole 1 inch from inside edge. Assemble
A and B using glue, or if plaster, 1/159 inch buck and wing
toggle bolt. Miter. Chamfer. Sand. Your tasket is now finished.
Diagram 1 looks like this:
LONG__ & RAIN' TLUQ
/ / / /
■' &CDEFC i.fttte -> )
lUlll ~=EEEEE^ t- 3 A^<
Don't try to make this, because Diagram 1 is not the
whole thing, only a piece of it. And I can't advise you be-
cause I decided not to make it quite yet. I had imagined I
could make a simple tasket with just wood, a saw, a hammer,
and nails. After I read the directions, I realized I also
needed a hand router plane, a dado set, a long grain plug,
which means I needed a plug cutter, a chamfer, and a miter.
I didn't know where to buy a chamfer, though I suppose I
could have got a miter at an ecclesiastical supply house.
But before I could buy all these things, I had to have a
place to put them. Some sort of make-it-yourself cabinet
perhaps. I needed a table to make the cabinet on. I needed
a place to put the table, so I needed another room. Handy
directions for turning a porch into a room were available,
but first I had to get the handy directions for building a
Before starting to build the porch, I thought I might do
a little work on what was already there. Painting— that
should be easy.
Painting is easy, as long as you don't do it properly. If
you do it properly, it's very difficult because you must pre-
pare the surface. Professional painters don't, but the paint
manufacturers are so afraid that do-it-yourselfers will goof,
that they make it perfectly clear that they are not responsi-
ble (". . . vital importance of proper surface preparation.
SUCCESS is assured only if all instructions . . .")
You must sand with 000 Garnet paper, repair cracks and
gouges with plastic wood tinted to match the final color,
countersink all exposed nailheads, sand again. Then you
may reverently approach the manufacturer's can of paint.
In the case of plaster walls, you must spackle. Preparing
the spackle, you are told, requires a high degree of skill and
professional know-how. It fact, it is just like mixing batter.
I did not learn all this at once, because I didn't think it
applied to me. My surfaces looked all right, so I simply
painted— woodwork— as quickly as possible. I wanted to get
it over with and go and sit in the sun. When I finished, there
was paint on the floor, and I got up as much as possible,
and some on the window panes, and I used a razor. What I
couldn't get up, I stopped seeing— I had a splendidly accom-
modating eye. I looked at everything from a distance with
a slight artistic squint, and it certainly seemed much fresher
and brighter than before. I was pleased. It was almost crea-
I should never have assumed that one can ever get doing-
it-yourself over with. Because people who had done it them-
selves began to come around and say things in level pro-
fessional voices. They said, "You should work your paint-
brush into the corners," and "When you paint a door, your
strokes should not go every which way," and "Was your
paint too thin? Enamel has a tendency to drip," and "I
can't understand how you manage to get so much paint on
yourself," and "I could give you a few tips on cutting edges,"
and finally they said, "And when are you going to do the
My eyes stopped being accommodating. I saw dark cor-
ners, and drips, and sloppy edges, and my spatter-pattern
loafers, and the room was no longer fresh and bright, but
waiting for a second coat. "And you might have to do a
third to cover up those brush strokes."
Thus it was that I learned to paint properly. Thus I dis-
covered that I can do-it-myself, just like everyone else.
80 I Won't Do It Myseli
It may be too late. Already, like everyone else who does
it himself, I am beginning to be a fiend. Everywhere I go,
no matter how hard I try to be a slob. I see drips and
dark corners, my own and other people's. If I am not doing
it myself physically, I do it mentally. My friends may
think we are having an intellectual conversation, but I am
repainting their woodwork. The paint is not going on well
because they didn't clean the soot out of the corner, the
slobs. After painting, I scrape and wax their floors, even
when I have to use the kind of wax I don't like, which I
saw in their kitchen.
I can't even read. In the first paragraph of The Man in
the Gray Flannel Suit, there is a big dent in the plaster
with a crack in the shape of a question mark leading out of
it. They tried to fix it, but they must have done something
wrong. I couldn't pay attention to the book, not to mention
this delicate symbolism, until I had got out my trusty spackle
and fixed the question mark.
Fiends are the apogee of the do-it-yourself movement.
Most people have somebody to thank for something, but
fiends have done everything all by themselves, including
making themselves fiends. Their minds are cluttered up
with all kinds of superior knowledge, and the minute they
look at a wall, a floor, a piece of furniture, they take out
their putty knife, and apply their knowledge with a wet
With the prevalence of fiends, a moral shift has occurred.
In the old days, a fiend might have been dismissed as "pison
neat." In the old days, if your house was run down, it didn't
necessarily mean you were a slob. Perhaps you didn't have
the money to get it fixed.
Today fiends are respectable and there is no out for
slobs. If you haven't got the money, you can do it your-
self, and you can do it properly. When people arrive unex-
pectedly, you whisk out of sight, paintbrush in hand, and slip
into your provincial swivel-top TV lounging outfit.
This is democracy gone too far. I refuse to work my fin-
gers to the bone in order to look rich. And I have no chance
to put the paintbrush in turpentine, so it dries up and gets
I am now defiending myself myself, because I get no
help from anyone else. They continue to keep at me. "Make
your home a show place—" "Reflect your good taste in—"
"Know this—" "Do this—" "Before you do this—" "You
They continue to assume that their time is worth more
than mine. They think they are too busy to knock things
up, but that I have all the time in the world. So they tell
me it will be fun, and it will be good for me to do things
with my hands, because it will take my mind off myself.
I see no reason to take my mind off myself if all I do with
it is put it on a do-it-yourself shelf.
There is no use their enjoining me any further. From now
on I am going to have experts, big, serene, inarticulate ex-
perts, who know exactly what they are doing, and are
unable to explain it to me.
I will be lying in the sun on a broken-down old beach
chair, which I did not make myself, which is not a conver-
sation piece, nor a handsome addition to my garden, nor
scientifically designed, nor completely adjustable. All that
it is is eminently and imminently collapsible. The expert
will come and say, "It's the reverse rabbet in the china-
closet screen that is the causing the trouble." I will not get
82 I Won't Do It Myself
up. I will not ask questions. I will say, "Let it out," and if
I have any energy left after that, I will turn over slowly
so as to get brown on the other side. And just in case, to be
in the right position to see the reverse rabbet when it comes
hopping backward out of the screen.
How I Am Never Going to
Make Clam Chowder Again
he Boston Cooking-School Cook
Book by Fannie Merritt Farmer is an institution, which
means sophisticated people treat it tenderly, and unsophisti-
cated people consider it a Bible. I would like Fannie Farmer
to retire quietly and quickly. It is true that we are passing
out of the era when she was the all-around cookbook, but she
is still all around (in the drawer of the kitchen table) when
you want a basic recipe, and still causing trouble.
Some of her recipes should be preserved as sociological
curiosities. But not to eat— to be read. What she thought
up! Canapes in particular excited her: she put oysters in a
grapefruit. She also loved mock things— Mock Almonds,
Mock Crabs, and Mock Cassava Bread, which most people
would be unable to assess, never having eaten Real Cassava
Bread. She created Cigarettes a la Prince Henry, made of
puff paste and chicken forcemeat, and Lobster Boats, to
which you add "sails made of rice paper and small wooden
skewers, covering skewers with thin white cardboard."
There is Peanut Salad, and a soup called Nymph Aurora,
Halibut in Bed (in French ) , and Tournadoes of Beef, topped
with a hominy-and-horse-radish croquette and a piece of
In the more sober basic recipes, Fannie Farmer was un-
able to exercise her rich and untrammeled imagination. To
be a New England institution, she had to include them, but
I think that secretly she hated them. She wished to dis-
courage everyone from making them, so that they would turn
back to Nymph Aurora. So she set herself to making the
basic recipes as complicated as possible. She played a game
with herself to see if she could get every single utensil in
the kitchen dirty.
In her recipe for New England Clam Chowder— I mean
Clam Chowder— she comes closest to success. This is what
Leaving out the list of ingredients, the recipe begins:
"Clean and pick over clams, using one cup cold water; drain,
reserve liquor, heat to boiling point, and strain." How do
you pick over something with a cup of water? I couldn't
imagine, so I put the clams in a saucepan, poured a cup of
cold water over them, tossed them around a bit, and then
emptied the whole business into a strainer over another
saucepan. Then I saw that I was going to have to use the
strainer again so I dumped the clams out of the strainer
onto a chopping board. I heated the clam liquor to a boiling
point and strained it into a third saucepan. For some reason
I don't understand, one has to heat the clam liquor again
We have just begun, and we have used three saucepans,
a measuring cup, a strainer, and a tablespoon to scrape
out the clams. Total: six.
We continue: "Chop finely hard part of clams; cut pork
in small pieces and try out; add onion, fry five minutes, and
strain into a stewpan." One board and a knife for all the
chopping. Trying out, according to Fannie Farmer, should
be done in a double boiler, which adds two utensils, leaving
out the cover. (I am still using the same tablespoon.) There
86 Never Make CJam Chowder Again
is also the stewpan. The onion must be sliced, so what with
that, chopping the salt pork, separating the hard and soft
parts of the clams and chopping the former, and with pota-
toes coming up, one must use a second chopping board.
With so many different little piles on one board, you risk
losing one while you're scraping another (same dirty knife)
into the pan. And I found the hard and soft parts of the
clams difficult enough to keep straight, so I put what I
thought was the soft part of the clams into a little bowl.
Dirty utensils to date: thirteen.
I am mystified in this recipe as to why you strain the
onion and salt pork. What Fannie Farmer wanted seems to
have been fat slightly flavored with onion, so you are sup-
posed to throw away the delicious golden brown onion and
the crisp bits of fried salt pork. I couldn't bear to, so I put
them aside in a separate dish to eat later. But since I was
supposed to throw them away, it would be unfair for me
to count this dish. I am attempting to be, not only fair,
but as economical as possible throughout.
"Parboil potatoes [this is 4 cups of potatoes cut in 34-inch
cubes] five minutes in boiling water to cover; drain and put
a layer in bottom of stewpan." The potato peeler is fourteen.
In cutting up the potatoes I used the same knife and measur-
ing cup. Saucepan to parboil potatoes is fifteen (fourth
saucepan) . You might use the same strainer to drain the po-
tatoes, but if you drain them by the usual method of holding
the lid a little askew and pouring the water out, you have an-
other utensil, the lid of the pan. Total: sixteen.
Now you put a layer of potatoes in the bottom of the
stewpan (still same tablespoon, somewhat gummy), add
the chopped clams, sprinkle them with salt and pepper,
and "dredge generously with flour." (Fannie Farmer loved
to dredge with flour, which is what is wrong with her gravy. )
For this, I absolutely must have a clean spoon, since the
other one has got potatoes and clams on it. Total: seventeen.
"Add remaining potatoes, again sprinkle with salt and
pepper, dredge with flour." Pay close attention, because you
didn't, in the previous paragraph, just sprinkle with any old
amount of salt and pepper. You used 1 tablespoon of salt
and Vs teaspoon of pepper, which means two more spoons.
Since part goes in at one time, and part later, I also had to
wipe off the table, because the remaining salt in the table-
spoon fell out when I put it down to get the flour. I don't
really blame that on Fannie Farmer. No, I couldn't use the
same spoon I used for the flour, because I got mixed up
and stirred with it, and now it is allover incipient clam
". . . and add two and one half cups boiling water." Same
measuring cup, but I had to boil the water in something, and
I had to boil it in something with a lid, because I am getting
impatient. Total: twenty-one.
"Cook ten minutes, add milk." This is four cups of
scalded milk. Here comes the measuring cup on its fourth
sally (water, potatoes, water, milk). If you scald milk prop-
erly (page 27), you "heat over boiling water, covered, un-
til milk around edge of pan has bead-like appearance." This
means another double boiler, which is three more utensils,
including the cover. I suppose I could use the same bottom
and the same lid of the double boiler I used for trying out
the pork, if I happened to have two double boilers exactly
the same size. As it happens, I do, because the bottoms of
double boilers have a tendency to boil away and get thrown
out. But Fannie Farmer would never have let this happen, so,
as far as she is concerned, the list of dirty utensils now
stands at twenty-four.
88 Never Make Clam Chowder Again
"Add soft parts of clams, and butter" (four tablespoons
recklessly measured with the salty tablespoon); "boil three
minutes, and add crackers split and soaked in enough cold
water to moisten." These should be "common crackers":
Fm not sure what they are or why one must split them.
But I did it with a clean knife. The old one had been used
for pork, onion, potatoes, and for pushing things off boards
into the stewpan. It was a mess. Parenthetically, it is typi-
cal of Fannie Farmer to soak something enough to moisten
it. In any case, it involves a bowl and brings the total to:
I am not counting that I had to wipe off the clock on the
dresser because I got butter and things on it when I turned
it around to see when three minutes started.
"Reheat clam water" (all ready in saucepan Number 3)
"to boiling point, and thicken with one tablespoon butter
and flour cooked together." How do you do this? You use a
fifth saucepan and another spoon. Total: twenty-eight.
It is finished, and the stewpan has a lid, so that makes
I also have to wipe off the edge of the ruler I used to
measure the 34 -inch cubes of potatoes. Thirty.
You may object that I could have boiled the water in the
teakettle and that you don't have to wash the teakettle every
time you use it. I did, but I did have to. The fat from the
salt pork spattered on it because I didn't put a lid on the
first double boiler. That was why I used a lid on the second
Thirty separate things to wash for one basic New England
recipe is too institutional for me, and I don't feel tender
about it. Take Fannie Farmer away and dredge her gener-
ously in flour to bury.
Too Many Cooks?
*NE OF THE REASONS I WRITE (YOU
don't think I do it for fun, do you? ) is because the human be-
ing in the twentieth century faces the terrifying fact that he
is alone, alone, alone (I also do it for money) . I speak to all
of you across a void. Are you there on the other side? In
a way, but from my point of view as likely as not you have
little pointed heads and antennae and can't understand a
word I am saying.
I want to communicate. I want to get across to you. The
difficulties are, of course, created by me. The first one is
that nothing that has happened to me has ever happened to
any of you. I have had all these experiences for the very
first time, and no amount of telling me different will con-
vince me to the contrary.
The second is that when I am not with people I cease to
exist for them. By this I mean that while I may talk about
other people and other people may talk to me about other
people, when I am not there no one ever talks about me.
I know, because people always suggest this sort of thing,
that the only way I can get across to you, the only way I
can believe that you're real and talking about me, is through
an act of faith. I am therefore going to make a positive ges-
ture in this direction and reveal something about myself.
It is the most intimate and carefully guarded secret of all.
90 Too Many Cooks?
It must be, because none of you has ever admitted it to me.
Either you are ashamed to admit it, or none of you has it.
I am ashamed to admit it, too, but I am going to. I think
about myself the whole time. Even worse, I am not the
only one doing it. There are at least four of us here.
I must say immediately that I have read the book called
The Three Faces of Eve, which is about a lady who is two
alternating and diametrically opposed personalities, then
three, and finally a fourth. I have also read about Miss
Beauchamp, in the earlier case history, The Dissociation of
a Personality, by Morton Prince. In both these fascinating
cases, when one personality takes over the others go away.
My case is even more fascinating, and quite different. No
one of the various Sylvias can take over and blot out the
others. They are all in there pitching every minute. No won-
der I sometimes have dark circles under my eyes.
And how they do run on— talk, talk, talk, bicker, bicker,
bicker. This is the third and most potent reason why it is
hard for me to get across to the rest of you. How can I pay
attention to what you're saying when Fm having such an
absorbing conversation with myself?
To illustrate my case, I am going to give you an example
of how we run on. Don't think Fm going to reveal any real
secrets or low details. I am saving everything base for fiction,
where I can pretend to be someone else— that is, a fifth or
Serious students of human personality will find my ac-
count unscholarly. I offer it humbly on the chance that the
untutored, farouche instinct of the creative artist will inad-
vertently disclose something they haven't thought of. (Who
are you, calling yourself an artist? An artist is serious and
disciplined.) There's one of them now. (I'm disciplined, too,
but in a different way. Don't be pompous.) There's an-
I also realize that I am laying myself open to the charge of
being utterly inconsequential in the thought processes. I
am utterly inconsequential in my thought processes. The rea-
son I'm writing this (now we are getting down to it) is in
case there is someone around who is like me. Could it be that
what I get from the rest of you is as carefully tailored
and edited as what I give you? If so, let's all relax.
We are going to suppose that I am cooking up my usual
delicious stew. Making stew provides everyone with ex-
actly the right opportunity to engage in her customary squab-
ble. You are getting two things for your money: a glimpse
into the unknown depths of a human soul and a recipe for
First you must buy a quantity of boneless chuck. I won't
tell you any particular quantity. Unlike the cookbooks, I
don't know how many people you are having for dinner.
sylvia no. one (We are listed in oidei of appearance) :
The butcher likes me. He smiles and makes jokes. I'm less
fussy and demanding than most women he waits on.
sylvia no. two: Fussy! You're positively careless. You
never bother to find out how much things are going to cost.
one (Dreamily) : "She was so easygoing and open-hearted.
Always a friendly word and a smile for everyone. We will
all miss her now."
two: You're scared to be fussy because someone might
be unpleasant to you. You're a coward.
one (Taken aback): Am I? Oh, dear. (Thinks it over) I
am not. I rode the Cyclone at Coney Island.
two: You screamed the whole time.
92 Too Many Cooks?
one: So did you.
two: It was your fault. You made me go.
one: Anyway I enjoyed screaming, which is more than
sylvia no. three: Pay attention to what we're doing.
We're buying meat
The beef should be in rather large chunks.
one: How lavish and generous I am! Some people serve
stew with little tiny bits of meat in it.
two: You had a lot left over the last time.
one: It was good, too.
three (Firmly) : I would like to get this shopping over
with. Shopping is boring.
one: Why, J don't think so. I am the type who finds
possibilities of interest and enjoyment in everything. If I
were a painter, that display of beans and lentils would in-
spire me into making a beautiful abstraction. And people's
faces. How fascinating they are.
two: Look at that one. She hates me.
three (To One): Stop showing off. I am the type who
pays attention to what she is doing. I am concentrated.
When the rest of you leave me alone, I am.
We will now assume that we are all at home, with the
shopping done and the groceries put away. We get out our
one: Some people call it a spider. I wonder why. I think
I'll look it up.
three: Don't try to do two things at once. We're making
Brown the meat in butter in the frying pan.
three: It's burning!
sylvia no. four: I'm sorry. I just had to know. Originally
frying pans had legs and were used over coals on the hearth.
three: Of course I do, but Fm not interested. You made
me burn the meat.
two (Wails) : It'll taste horrid!
four (Looks it over) : Don't be upset. It's not badly burned.
It might improve the taste. Who knows?
Brown the meat in butter if you are feeling rich. It takes
one (Musing) : "No matter what else she must skimp on,
she always uses the best fresh butter, and a good wine."
two: How do you know it's a good wine? You have no
palate. You'll drink anything. And everything.
one: Are you referring to last night?
two: When we were offered that highball after dinner, I
was perfectly willing to wait awhile. But you had to have it.
four: It tasted very good.
two (To One) : I know what you think. You think if you
drink enough, I'll go away.
one: You do, too. It's fun.
three: We have been through this before. I refuse to dis-
cuss which of you was responsible for that hangover. You
all ought to know better.
two: I doubt if there is any good wine that costs a dollar
and nine cents.
three: The wine will do all light.
four: Let's try it, and see how it is.
three: Not right now. Put in some more meat.
four (Tasting it) : It's quite a nice wine.
94 Too Many Cooks?
two: Nice enough for stew. We shouldn't be extravagant.
three: I agree. I need new shoes.
one: Some one on the beach said my feet looked Greek.
Do my hands look Greek, I wonder?
three: Put in some more meat.
two: They look bloody at present.
one: I wish there were someone around to read my palm.
I love having my palm read.
three: I don't believe in that stuff.
two (To One) : You like being the center of attention and
having your hand held.
two: That man who read our palm said I was inhibited. I
am not inhibited.
one: On the contrary, I'm quite spontaneous.
three: I've watched you being spontaneous. My, you
think you're good at it.
Having browned all the meat carefully on all sides, we
take it out of the frying pan and put it into our earthenware
casserole. Then we pour two or three tablespoonfuls of
sherry over it (one of our secrets) and salt and pepper it.
We start scraping the carrots and cutting them up.
one (Sadly) : Carrots don't make your hair curl.
three: Like "kiss your elbow and you'll be a boy." When
I was eight, I believed that. I tried and tried. I had read
Bob Graham at Sea and I wanted to join the Merchant Ma-
one: I should put a little hand lotion on my elbows.
four: It was that beautiful square-rigged training ship. I
was dying to sail on it.
one: I certainly don't want to go into the Merchant Ma-
rine now. I'm perfectly satisfied with being a woman.
two: Are you sure?
four: Yes. There are only one or two things I'd like to be
one: Now I'm not even sure I'd like to go on a cruise with
someone in a small sailboat. One is always tripping over
cleats and ropes—
one: —and cans of beans and oars.
two (To Four) : Well, go on. What do you want to be
clearer about? You should face your problems.
four (Distant) : I don't think I'm going to tell you right
now. Things often solve themselves.
one: "As they tacked into the harbor, she was sitting on
the gunwale, her long blond hair streaming behind her in
two: The damp sea breeze had taken every smitch of
curl out of her long straight blond hair.
one: Making love in a bunk would be cramped.
four: CENSORED (She could manage it)
two: You forget. She isn't in the bunk. She is still sitting
in the gunwale. We just came about and she has been
four: Wonderful salt water. I love to swim.
two: If you'd give up smoking, you could swim much far-
This goes along more quickly than it reads. We are now
browning the carrots a little in the same spider, adding more
butter if necessary.
two (To One) : Stop pretending you're in that sailboat with
96 Too Many Cooks?
X. He hasn't given any indication that that's what he has
one: Do I need indications? He likes me.
three: You're quite mistaken. He likes me. Who sewed
up his coat sleeve?
one: All right, whom did he recite that poem to?
two: He consulted me about his job.
four: He knows I'm there. It's exciting.
sylvia no. five (As much of a surprise to me as she is to
you): He does. And he suspects about me, which is more
than the rest of you do. But I can wait. I'll come out the
next time we see him.
We have dumped the carrots in the casserole, and are
now peeling the onions, which should be the small white
two: Do I cry more than most women?
one: You cried because you didn't think X liked you. It
made me look awful. I could have killed you.
four: There's a Picasso picture of a weeping woman,
which looks the way I feel when I cry.
three: Does that make it good?
four: I think so. If you were writing a review, you could
phrase it more grandly.
one: Why, look at us! We made an artistic judgment while
making stew. What a varied and interesting mind we have!
We brown the onions in the frying pan. Then we peel
some mushrooms, depending on how big they are, cut them
in quarters, and brown them. Here we really do have to
add some more butter. Mushrooms sop it up. Dump these
in the casserole, too. We are ready to make the gravy.
three: And please let's pay attention. I can't make a decent
sauce with a quarter of our mind on it. Why can't I have
two: Stop scolding me. I always try to be good.
one: And how it bores me.
two: It's not my fault.
three: Stop it. Stir a little flour into the butter.
one: Not too much, or it won't taste French.
four: A little tomato paste. That helps thicken it. And, if
we have some, a little Bovril.
two (Martyred) : I'm good for something. I didn't forget
one: ''She is full of instinctive feminine wisdom. There is
something French about her."
three: That's enough. It's all blended.
four: Not quite. There's no hurry.
two: There is, too. Those people will be here in two hours.
You know how I hate to be surprised.
four: I love to be surprised.
one: I want you to hurry up, too. I have to have time to
decide what to wear.
three: Now pour in the wine and scrape up all that brown
four: Such a satisfactory way to get a frying pan clean.
one (Still thinking about what to wear): "A charming
picture— no one would have guessed that a few moments
before she had been bending over a hot stove."
two (Disgusted) : Bending over a hot stove— what a
cliche! At our age, you ought to be over that stuff. What
about that aristocratic English family you used to be a
member of every night before you went to sleep?
one: You're mean to bring that up. I forgot about them
98 Too Many Cooks?
long ago. (Getting no sympathy at home, she addresses her-
self to a friend) I am sorry to burden you with this infor-
mation, but I have thought it over, and I know that in the
end you would wish to have known. I have a fatal disease.
I have only a year or two more. I hope to spend them
two (Considering) : It would be pleasant. I would ignore
all the people I don't like. I wouldn't write those letters.
I wouldn't collect money for charity. I wouldn't do any-
thing I didn't want to. Everyone would be nice to me.
three: No such luck. We'll all live to be eighty-five.
two (Sighs) : I suppose so.
three: Now let's put in the beef bouillon.
two: If I were a really good cook, I'd have some beef stock
made from scratch.
one: It takes a lot of time.
two: But it might be better to spend the time on improv-
ing myself. There's so much I haven't read— The World
of Mathematics. Someone was talking about Balzac. I was
ashamed I hadn't read anything of his.
four: Were you? I wasn't.
two: I thought I should study French.
three: Salt and pepper.
one: A little thyme.
two: Bay leaf.
four: How about a little oregano? We never tried oregano.
three: I wouldn't risk it.
But while she is talking, Four has put some in.
one: What do you think? Pretty good?
three (Judiciously) : Just a little more salt.
They pour the sauce into the casserole, and turn on the
gas under it.
three: A low flame. (To Two) If we organize our time
properly, we should be able to do both. Now, if we can
manage to get to bed every night by 1 1, up at 7—
four: I think I'll read The Red and the Black next.
two: We should read The World of Mathematics. It's
harder and it would be good for us.
four: I'm sorry, but I want to read Stendhal.
three: We should set up some sort of criteria for our-
self. The trouble with the modern world is that there are
too many choices—
four (More or less to herself) : If I had more criteria, I
might be leerier, but how much wearier to be superior. I'll
two: Stop being childish. This is not the moment for
four: I can rhyme while you get dressed.
three: Don't I know it. You're the one who sometimes
has two cigarettes going in different ash trays.
one: No, she isn't. The other cigarette was mine.
four: I'm so delighted these people are coming to dinner
that I think I'll whip up a few criteria for dessert.
one: She is famous for her delicious criteria.
three: Her criteria are so professional that she could
easily make her living if she were willing to sell them.
two: No matter what else she does badly, you can count
on her criteria.
one: Look at us. We can be funny when we're all by our-
100 Too Many Cooks?
three: Stop looking at us. You do too much of that as it
Having finished the stew, they pause, wander around the
room, and then all look at themselves in the mirror.
two: Why, oh why, is her nose so long?
one (Tilting her head) : "You might say that she has mo-
ments of beauty. It is perhaps not so much her actual fea-
tures as her expression— something dreamy, a little elu-
three (Interrupting) : Color pretty good. No dark circles.
Hair combed out all right. You'll pass.
four: Is that you? So it is. Why does it go on and on being
It is very good stew. Who, I (who?) wonder, made it?
Straying into the Library
The Death of Lady Mondegreen
HEN I WAS A CHILD, MY MOTHER
used to read aloud to me from Percy's Reliques. One of my
favorite poems began, as I remember:
Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl Amurray,
And Lady Mondegreen.
I saw it all clearly. The Earl had yellow curly hair and a
yellow beard and of course wore a kilt. He was lying in a
forest clearing with an arrow in his heart. Lady Monde-
green lay at his side, her long, dark-brown curls spread out
over the moss. She wore a dark-green dress embroidered
with light-green leaves outlined in gold. It had a low neck
trimmed with white lace (Irish lace, I blieve). An arrow
had pierced her throat. From it, blood trickled down over
the lace. Sunlight coming through the leaves made dappled
shadows on her cheeks and her closed eyelids. She was hold-
ing the Earl's hand.
It made me cry.
The poem went on to tell about the Earl Amurray. He
was a braw gallant who did various things, including play-
ing at the bar, which, I surmised, was something lawyers
did in their unserious moments. (I grew up during prohibi-
tion, though I was against prohibition and for Governor
Smith.) The poem also said that he was the Queen's love,
and that long would his lady look o'er the castle doun ere
she saw the Earl Amurray come sounding through the toun.
Nothing more was said about Lady Mondegreen.
But I didn't feel it was necessary. Everything had been
said about Lady Mondegreen. The other ladies may have
pretended they loved the Earl, but where were they? The
Queen was probably sitting in Dunfermline toun drinking
the blood-red wine along with the King (the one in "Sir
Patrick Spens"). As for the Earl's wife, hiding in the castle
in perfect safety and pretending to worry about him, it was
clear she only married him so she could be Lady Amurray.
She was such a sissy she probably didn't even look doun
very hard— she was scared she'd fall through the crenela-
tion of the battlements. As a matter of fact, she looked like
a thin wispy girl I once socked in the stomach while I was
guarding her in basketball because she kept pushing me
over the line when the gym teacher couldn't see her and who
was such a sissy that she fainted dead away so that every-
body said I should learn to be a lady when really she was
cheating— but I won't go into that. Lady Mondegreen
loved the Earl truly, and she was very brave. When she
heard that Huntly, the villain, was coming after him, she
ran right out of her castle and into the forest to be with him
without even stopping to change from her best dress.
By now, several of you more alert readers are jumping
up and down in your impatience to interrupt and point out
that, according to the poem, after they killed the Earl of
Amurray, they laid him on the green. I know about this,
but I won't give in to it. Leaving him to die all alone with-
out even anyone to hold his hand— I won't have it.
The point about what I shall hereafter call mondegreens,
106 The Death of Lady Mondegreen
since no one else has thought up a word for them, is that
they are better than the original.
Take Hizzeray. Hizzeray is that huge hairy muscular Etrus-
can in the Lays oi Ancient Rome who was such a demon
with the broadsword and who perpetrated one of the great
betrayals of history. If Hizzeray had been there, Horatius
couldn't have held the bridge a minute. Horatius was very
brave, but Hizzeray was bigger. If not, why was he the first
person Lars Porsena of Clusium thought of, when he swore
by the Nine Gods that the great house of Tarquin should
suffer wrong no more?
And named a trysting-day,
And bade his messengers ride forth
East and west and south and north,
To summon Hizzeray.
Hizzeray was hard to find or the messengers wouldn't have
been told to go in so many directions, but he had no excuse.
The messengers blew so many trumpets that tower and
town and cottage heard the blast. I hoped Hizzeray would
rush in at the last moment and knock Horatius into the
Tiber. (I was on Lars Porsena of Clusium's side, though
you're not supposed to be, because his name was so much
better than anyone else's.) But Hizzeray never did. When
Shame on the false Etruscan
Who lingers in his home,
When Porsena of Clusium
Is on the march for Rome—
they mean Hizzeray.
Then there is Harold. You know Harold: "Our Father
who art in heaven, Harold be Thy name." It's not one I
would have picked myself, but if he has to have a name,
Harold will do. Harold has a tendency to corpulence: "O
all ye works of the Lord; fleshy the Lord."
But he can do extraordinary things. There's a hymn
which tells about it. As it is printed in the book, it says
that he "moves in a mysterious way,/His wonders to per-
form." Actually, of course, what it says is that Harold
"moves in a mysterious way— he wanders down a horn."
You must pray to Harold if you want something very
specific. For instance, if you have discovered how very
difficult it is to meet someone there, you say to Harold,
"Lead us not into Penn Station." At the same time, Harold
will protect you from those jittery, unreliable New York,
New Haven, and Hotfoot trains. They aren't as dangerous
when they're coming into nice motherly old Gran Central.
Even the mizz doesn't scare Harold. The mizz is a sort
of elemental protoplasm, which looks like a thick, pulpy,
shifting fog. It is inhabited by strangely shaped, white,
squudgy animals, who moan quietly to themselves from time
to time. The mizz is in the Evening Prayer Service: "Let
the sea make a noise, and all that in the mizz."
If you decide that Harold is your shepherd, you can be
sure of being looked after. If he can't be there himself,
he will get in Good Mrs. Murphy and "Surely Good Mrs.
Murphy shall follow me all the days of my life." I knew
Mrs. Murphy, and I can't think of anyone I'd rather have
follow me, though, knowing her, I think she would more
likely be several blocks ahead. She could do almost as many
things as Harold. She told fortunes in tea leaves, baked
delicious bread in a frying pan, and once, when her little
boy climbed onto the top of the roof and was too scared to
get down, she shouted up to him, "You come right down,
you little Irish basket," and like magic he got over being
scared and came right down.
108 The Death of Lady Mondegreen
Mrs. Murphy lived in Massachusetts, where they have
a holiday in April called Pay Treats Day. It always sur-
prises and infuriates people who come from other states,
because, just when they want to go out to buy shoes or
bean pots, they find all the shops closed up tight, while the
shopkeepers are out paying treats. This reminds me of
Paul Revere, who rode to "spread the alarm through every
middlesex, village, and farm." Middlesexes look a little like
drumlins, if you know what they are, but they are made of
hay, and so also look a little like haystacks. There is one
middlesex exactly in between each village and farm. A person
who is too poor to live in a village or farm lives in a middlesex.
And where the middlesexes, villages, and farms slope
down to the sea, beyond the dunes, beyond the rocky coast,
stands the Donzerly Light on a rugged, lonely promontory.
At twilight, the lighthouse keeper turns it on, and it begins
to spout rockets and bombs which light up the flagpole with
the great big American flag which stands right next to it.
This is where you go to pledge the legions to the flag.
There's a rude bridge around here somewhere, which is
so dilapidated that it touches the flood.
There are many mondegreens which give fresh new in-
sights into tired old ideas. With all due respect to Rudy
Vallee, 'Tm just a vagabond lover" seems a pretty wet
notion nowadays. A friend of mine unwittingly sang it
"I'm just a bag of unloving." If you've heard anything at
all about psychiatry (who hasn't?) you will realize that a
bag of unloving is a significant concept, and when you get
a bag of unloving in search of a sweetheart, you've got the
scheme of a well-developed neurosis, because as long as
you don't have adequate feelings of self-esteem and love
yourself, you can't love someone else.
One day I found, on the back page of the New York
Post, a headline: giants struggle under weight of
'dead' bats. This is one of the most terrifying scenes I can
think of, particularly since there seemed to be some doubt
as to whether the bats are really dead. That would be bad
enough, but if they were all stirring and squeaking— it
would daunt even Hizzeray.
Then there are the people who, in between radio pro-
grams, sing a precise, cheerful, staccato little ditty that
goes: "In just eight sec-onds, you get H-bomb/' After I
had counted eight seconds and hadn't got it, I came to
enough to realize that they were continuing with "Gas and
heartburn with Alkaid." So I began to wonder if some of
them were singing "aid from" instead of "H-bomb" but at
that point the announcer came on and said: "This is New
York's fur station," and I knew there was a mondegreen
influence loose in that studio.
And some years ago, before World War II, there was a
quiet Sunday morning when I discovered that on the front
page of the New York Times it said: 'world blows near.'
As I puzzled over this, I felt, in my room, the faint, fresh
breath of the winds which were moving the turning world.
Whose world was it? What was going to happen?
If you lay yourself open to mondegreens, you must be
valiant. The world, blowing near, will assail you with a
thousand bright and strange images. Nothing like them has
ever been seen before, and who knows what lost and
lovely things may not come streaming in with them? But
there is always the possibility that they may engulf you and
that you will go wandering down a horn into a mondegreen
underworld from which you can never escape. If you want
to be safe, guarded from the underworld and the creatures
in the mizz, you have only to turn your back. And if you are
110 The Death of Lady Mondegreen
this type of person, all you'll feel is a faint twinge of heart-
burn over what you have missed— and you know how to
get aid from that.
You have only to decide, as Humpty Dumpty put it
(more or less ) , which is to be master, you or the word.
I am for the word, and against you.
Because there was a time, before she met the Earl
Amurray, when Lady Mondegreen was a bag of unloving.
Forlorn, in her embroidered dress, she looked out over her
own crenelated battlement, wondering, all alone, about
when the world would blow near so she could see what it
was all about. Suddenly, beyond the moat, beyond the
meadows, there is a stirring like dust far away on the hori-
zon. A trumpet blasts, and she sees that it is the Earl
Amurray, riding down the winding road, surrounded by
men on prancing horses. Actually, they are Robin Hood's
men, on a day off from Sherwood Forest, and the sun is
glistening on their tunics of link and green. As the Earl
Amurray spies Lady Mondegreen, he and his men spur
their horses to a gallop and shout their wild, strange battle
cry, "Haffely, Gaffely, Gaffely, Gonward." Lady Monde-
green rushes down the long, winding stone stair. She reaches
the portcullis and it rises as if by magic. The Earl Amurray
seizes her, lifts her onto his horse, and they ride over the
drawbridge together and out into the world.
At noon, they come to a babbling brook and they stop
and tie their horse to a tree. Upstream a little way (here
it is!) they see a rude bridge. The Earl Amurray pledges
his legions to the flag to April's breeze unfurled and they
go off, marching as to war, while the royal master leans
against the phone, waiting for news of their victory.
Lady Mondegreen and the Earl Amurray are left alone
by the brook. 'Tell me," says Lady Mondegreen, as they
sit down on the soft greensward in a crowd of gold and
affodils, "Tell me" (for she is beginning to get a little bit
hungry) "where is fancy bread?" And at this very mo-
ment, Good Mrs. Murphy, who has been riding a suitable
distance behind on a sturdy mule, trots up and presents
them with an Irish basket, which she has been carrying on
her saddlebow. In it, wrapped in a damask napkin, is the
fancy bread, a delicious small brown loaf, full of raisins
and citron, and covered with white frosting.
After they have eaten, they wash their hands in the
stream and rest awhile. Lady Mondegreen lies back on the
grass and listens to the soft sounds of the mumblebees as
they muzz among the affodils. The Earl Amurray enter-
tains her by sounding through a tune in his fine baritone
voice. Then they ride on. When night falls, they come at
last to their own particular middlesex where they camp out
under the stars, and Lady Mondegreen, because she loves
him, does not say a word when the Earl takes all the covers.
Tragedy lies ahead and there is no one who can save them.
Hizzeray is cowering in his home under a weight of dead
bats. And alas, Harold, who has been watching them from
above with a benign smile, cannot help. His horn has
vanished, and there is no way he can wander down.
But even though the worst will happen, Lady Monde-
green and the Earl Amurray have had their journey to-
gether. Even if hereafter they get H-bomb, they have
sniffed the delicate fragrance of the affodils, tasted the
fancy bread, and slept together in the middlesex. Lady
Mondegreen knows what the world is all about.
Lady Mondegreen is me.
112 The Death of Lady Mondegreen
Institute, Meet Artist
JL. HAVE BEEN READING THE ANNUAL REPORT
of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and a responsible
and heartening report it is, such as one could normally file
and forget. But one of the Carnegie Corporation's projects
has fastened on my mind. The more I think about it, the
more it fastens.
One of the most important obligations of the modern
foundation, says the Corporation, is to foster creativity, "to
discover and nurture gifted individuals." But what is this
creativity? it asks itself. "What do we mean by a crea-
tive individual?" No one has pinned it down. The Corpo-
ration wants some "initial clarification of the problem."
To get some, it has made a grant of $150,000 to the
University of California for a study of creativity. The study
is to be carried out over a five-year period by the Institute
of Personality Assessment and Research at Berkeley.
What a recondite and revolutionary institute! In my
day, we had never heard of such a thing.
In my day at the University of California, no one asked
me questions, assessed my personality, or measured my head.
This may have been because my head was in a sunbonnet,
and my connection with the University was parental. The
University let me alone and I experimented: I ate a little
dirt in the garden and recited poems to my doll. The dirt
was considered the problem, not the poems, though my
mother, in between lecturing me about the dirt, wrote down
the poems. I was illiterate at that period.
Things at Berkeley must have come a long way. Nowa-
days they undoubtedly measure the professors' children's
heads, the amount of dirt they eat per day, and their poems.
Now that it has been established that creativity is a prob-
lem, how is the Institute going to attack it? Presumably
it will collect some creative personalities and study them
to see how they got that way and what it's like. ( It mustn't
let Painter A and Writer B see each other passing in the
hall. If it does, neither of them will think the Institute
has any discrimination. )
But this would mean that the Institute can already tell
which personalities are creative and which aren't. If it can,
it certainly wouldn't need $150,000 and five years. It would
need a week or so at a smaller figure to write down how it
So that can't be it. I'm sure the Institute is much too
scholarly to leap to untested conclusions about who is and
who isn't creative.
Yet it will have to get some creative personalities some-
how. Suppose it decides to collect a few who are generally
accepted by the world at large to be creative. Igor Stra-
vinsky, for instance, lives right down the state a way and
might be willing to come up and have his head measured.
Of course the Institute should pay his expenses.
At this point, someone in the Institute will point out
that Henry Miller— just for instance— is nearer, and would
therefore be cheaper. Unless it has money enough for both
(and what about Groucho Marx?— he's in California, too)
the Institute will have a fight on its hands.
114 Institute, Meet Artist
I don't think this can be the method either. If the
Institute is scholarly, it is not going to accept a mass opin-
ion. It will have to have a better basis than that for its
I'm glad this method is ruled out, because, although it
is none of my business, I don't want the Institute taking up
too much of Stravinsky's time. I would like it better if
they used the money to send Stravinsky something very
nice— say, a case of fine brandy— and let him get on with
whatever he's doing in a mellow glow.
So it must be that the Institute will take a middle ground:
it will use, not its own judgment or the public's, but that of
authorities, the critics and scholars specializing in the vari-
ous arts and sciences. How is it going to establish that they
are authorities? I don't know. It looks as if it will have to
take their word for it, or else check every authority with
all the others and see which gets the most votes. That would
be the democratic procedure.
Something has just occurred to me. I have been assuming
that the Institute is interested, not in people who might
create, or in people who do create, but in people who create
well. But how can it limit itself like that? The study won't
be authoritative unless a good creator is compared both
with a bad and with an unrealized one. The Institute is going
to have to assess exactly three times as many personalities
as I had originally thought.
I don't envy the Institute this situation. With so many
people around, how can they keep them separated? I can
see them milling around in the halls, having coffee to-
gether, comparing notes on the questions they have been
asked, and drawing conclusions. Eventually everyone's
category will get out, and there will be accusations, recrimi-
nations, and, almost certainly, tears.
And this is only the beginning of the Institute's job. It
can't confine itself to living creativity alone. For all we
and it know, living creativity is quite different from dead
creativity. Many things could make it so— atomic fallout,
frozen foods, Freud, or the fact that it isn't dead yet. To
have a controlled study, the Institute will have to study
dead creativity also.
It is going to have to read and study things like Bee-
thoven's sketchbooks, Flaubert's letters, Van Gogh's let-
ters, Joyce Cary's The Horse's Mouth, the Modern Poetry
Collection at the Lockwood Memorial Library of the Uni-
versity of Buffalo, and hundreds of others. Undoubtedly
the Institute already has a little man with a Ph. D. put away
in a special room to do so.
If it doesn't, and if it should happen to read this, there
is a great deal I haven't read yet, and I'd like to visit
California, and $150,000 is a lot of money, and I would be
willing to go out and do some reading for a minimal sum
if my expenses were paid.
But it dawns on me that I am already there. I have been
puzzling so over how the Institute will operate, and feeling
so sorry for it, that suddenly I know what is going to happen.
I can see it.
The scene is Institute's office. Institute has given Artist
some tests, and now wants to talk to him, as Institute to
Artist, about his working habits and sources of inspiration.
The Institute is considerate, so it has scheduled its inter-
view in the later afternoon in order not to interrupt Artist's
working day. I see Artist as a musician, because painters don't
116 Institute, Meet Artist
like to talk much, and writers talk too much, in addition to
having an occupational tendency to tell lies.
institute: Good afternoon, Artist. Did you have a good
artist: It's raining. I must do something about my shoes.
institute (Biightly) : This is the rainy season here. I was
referring to your work. How did it go?
artist: These are pretty good shoes. Do you like them?
Can I have that newspaper? (Artist takes ofT shoes , stuffs
them with newspaper, and places them side hy side he-
hind him.) That's the best thing to do with shoes when
they're wet. (Artist sits back and crosses his ieet, reveal-
ing a small hole in the toe of his sock. He studies it with
interest) Can you darn socks?
institute (Hesitates, then remembers that Erst things come
first) : How did your work go today?
artist: Fine. What do you know about these Carnegie
people? The thing is this: If I could get a thousand dollars
I could finish my symphony. Let me think. I can live on
two hundred a month. Say fifteen hundred. That would
cover copying too.
institute (Gentle but firm) : I am afraid our research project
cannot handle this type of request. I can refer you to some-
one who will direct it through the proper channels.
artist: That sounds slow. There must be a quicker way.
I could marry a beautiful girl, who is also rich. Are you
institute: Did you begin work right after breakfast?
artist: A beautiful girl who is in love with me and whom I
am in love with. Breakfast? You know, your oranges here
aren't as good as I've always heard. Florida oranges have
more taste. And Italian oranges— (Artist begins to dream) —
the best in the world. I'D tell you what I'd have if I were
in Rome now. First, melon with prosciutto. Then fettucine.
Then a steak with a big salad. Chianti Brolio. (With sur-
prise and delight) I'm hungry.
institute (Indulgent) : That sounds like a wonderful din-
artist: That was lunch. For dinner, Fd start with arti-
institute (This could go on indefinitely): Let's discuss
what you did today.
artist: Don't you like to talk about food? I do. Today—
(Artist looks sad) I had a hamburger.
institute: And after lunch, you went back to work?
artist: I read Shakespeare and then I took a nap.
institute (Taking out notebook): Shakespeare? That's
artist: Don't you read Shakespeare?
institute: I have a good many technical journals to keep
up with. Does Shakespeare inspire you?
artist: I like to read him. I'm trying to understand Son-
net a hundred and twenty-nine. What do you think it
means? It's the one that begins—
institute: I'm afraid I haven't read it very recently.
artist: Oh. Is there any place I can go swimming around
here? I'd like to get some exercise. (Looks quizzically at
Institute) I should get in condition for the California girls.
institute (Coldly) : The Recreation Office 1 can give you
information on the local beaches. What else do you read?
artist: The sports page. There's a good fight tonight.
institute: I don't know much about prize fighting.
artist: Want to go? I'll take you. Let's go and have a
1 The Institute will need an office like this.
1 1 8 Institute, Meet Artist
drink now. You can go on interviewing me. We'll have
very dry Martinis.
institute (Tries to remember ii she was supposed to study
the relation oi creativity to alcohol) : I'm afraid that's im-
possible. Uh, does it help you creatively to drink?
artist: I like a drink at the end of the day.
institute: You feel pretty tired at the end of the day?
artist: Tired? Do I look tired? (Gets up and looks in mir-
ror) I don't look too tired. Hmmmm. (Straightens tie)
I look pretty good. (Turns and looks Institute over) How
old are you?
institute: If you are wondering if I am qualified to con-
duct this interview, I have my Ph.D. in Personality. I
wrote my thesis on "Some Aspects of Measurement in the
Judgment of the Kleinkopf Test."
artist (Impressed) : That sounds learned. Which is the
Kleinkopf Test? The one with the ink blots, or the one
with the dirty pictures?
institute: The Kleinkopf Test is the one with the paper
artist (Damped) : I didn't do so well on that one. I didn't
intend to cut off that doll's head.
institute (Consoling): We recognize that a creative per-
sonality is not necessarily gifted with manual dexterity.
artist: Listen, that test with the pictures is very poor.
You should change it.
institute (Her bailiwick) : The Thematic-Apperception
Test has been used for many years, and is extremely valuable.
artist: The pictures are badly drawn.
institute: That has nothing to do with the value of the
artist: It had a lot to do with the way I reacted. Isn't
institute: I don't believe you understand the purpose of
artist (Suspiciously) : How did Stone do on the paper
institute: I am not permitted to give information about
the tests of the other creative personalities.
artist: I don't care how good he was with the paper dolls.
He can't play the piano. Asparagus fingers!
institute (Interested— this is one of the areas of investi-
gation) : You do not find Stone creative?
artist: Creative? He's a schmoe.
institute: Could you elaborate that?
institute : Let's talk about your working habits.
artist: I don't have any habits. I just go to work.
institute: How do you put yourself into a creative mood?
artist: How do you put yourself into a mood to judge
institute: I don't. I just do them.
artist: That's what I do.
institute: Surely you recognize that there is a qualita-
tive difference between judging Kleinkopf Tests and writ-
ing music. I don't need inspiration to judge Kleinkopf
artist: Don't you like your work?
institute: Some of it's dull.
artist: Look at the opportunity you have— $150,000! No-
body in the past had such facilities. Think of what you
could find out. I'd be interested in knowing—
institute: We are investigating your work.
artist: I told you. I'm writing a symphony.
120 Institute, Meet Artist
institute: Could you describe in more detail exactly what
you are doing?
artist: (Thinks) : Do you know what double counterpoint
institute: More or less.
artist: What do you mean— more or less? Either you do
or you don't. Do you know what development is?
institute: Not exactly.
artist: Cancrizans canon?
artist: Then how can I tell you what I'm doing?
institute: You can try.
artist (Looks plaintively at Institute) : I'm sorry. (Thinks)
Practice. You study the great composers. Technique. It's
all in the technique. Some things come. (Looks at Institute)
A great deal has been written about this. I could give you
some things to read. There's a letter of Mozart's, for exam-
institute: But I'm supposed to investigate you.
artist: Mozart describes it better. All right, ask me some
institute: What were your feelings today while you were
artist: Feelings? It's going good. I have a little theme
like this— po 7 po, po, on the oboe. I'm sorry. I can't sing.
(Happily) I worked six hours today. (Artist gets up and
stretches) I feel great. (Wanders around the room while
Institute quickly writes in notebook. Artist watches Insti-
tute) You didn't tell me if you were married?
institute: I'm not.
artist: Are you in love?
institute: You shouldn't ask impertinent questions.
artist (Pleased) : I like you when you re mad. Why
shouldn't I ask questions? Fm interested. You ask me ques-
institute: My questions are scientific. Stop prowling
around in your stocking feet.
artist: If I put my shoes on, will you come and have a
drink with me?
artist (His tone would move mountains) : Oh, come and
have a drink. There are lots of things you haven't found
out about me. I'll be very nice to you. I'll give you a good
dinner. I'll tell you all the right questions to ask. Then we
can go back to my place, and I'll—
institute: I don't think I should.
artist: I was going to say that I'd play the piano for you.
institute: Certainly not.
artist: I guess I'd better be going. What's the name of the
girl who does the ink blots? She'll go out with me.
institute: She probably will. She'd go out with anybody.
artist: I was good at the ink blots. She helped me.
institute (Stiffly) : It is not a test for proficiency.
artist: She has beautiful blue eyes.
institute: And a double chin.
artist: I like you better.
institute (Off guard) : Do you?
artist: If you're good, and come and have a drink with
122 Institute, Meet Aitist
institute: You're impossible.
artist: What kind of a value judgment is that?
artist: Now we re in business. Come along. You want to
foster creativity, don't you? That's what the Institute is
for, isn't it? The way to foster creativity is to make me
artist: Okay, I'll put my shoes on. By the way, can you
What Was Good Enough for Mr Rochester
Descriptions in books are a prob-
lem to me, because I have only one living room. It is a long
room, running north and south. I am south, standing be-
tween two windows which look on the road— or driveway,
depending on how rich we are— at the front of the house.
In the middle of the wall on my left is the door into the
hall— a great hall with a curving staircase, or just a hall
with a staircase, depending on how rich we are. (If you are
like me, your mind has already begun to wander. One rea-
son I have only one living room is that I find it hard to pay
attention to descriptions.) In the center of the right-hand
wall is a fireplace and, beyond, a door opening into the
garden. Opposite me, on the north wall, is the door into the
dining room— or an archway, if we are in Jane Eyre. (I'm
sorry, but these details are necessary. )
The sofa is to the left of the fireplace, and it is here that
Mr. Rochester lies with his foot on a cushion, while he
looks at Jane Eyre's mournful water colors. There are
"beautiful books and ornaments on the consoles and chif-
fonieres." After his dinner party, Mr. Rochester, standing
by the piano, sings in his "mellow powerful bass" to Miss
Ingram's accompaniment, while Jane Eyre sits in the win-
dow seat, half hidden by the curtains, making a net purse.
The window seat is under the windows at the south end of
the room. I am always south.
Take out Mr. Rochester. Countess Rostov, feeling weary,
sits on the sofa, receiving guests on her name day, and
Natasha runs in from the hall, giggling over her doll.
Move the room part-way across Moscow, and Pierre is
startling the guests at Anna Pavlovna's soiree by defending
To the right of the door into the hall is a large desk. Here
Mr. Darcy writes a letter to his sister, while Miss Bingley
admires his speed in writing and Elizabeth Bennet watches.
My impression is that I am— I mean Elizabeth Bennet is—
sitting on the window seat in the south window.
To the left of the door into the hall is the grand piano,
with its keyboard in the middle of the room. Elsie Dins-
more sits on the piano stool. She is refusing to play the
piano because it is the Sabbath, and her father has said
she must sit there until she obeys him. (I have already
solved this problem by playing "He Who Would Valiant
Be," so I am sitting all alone in the window seat, watching,
and I am annoyed.) Presently, Elsie Dinsmore faints, and
Mr. Travilla says, "Dinsmore, you're a brute!"
Mme. Bovary has just bought two large blue glass vases
for the mantelpiece, and the men from Rumpelmayer's
will soon be here to take the doors off the hinges for Mrs.
Books where things don't happen in the living room
make me nervous. For example, near the beginning of A
Handful of Dust, there appears the troubling phrase: "the
shuttered drawing room." Things take place in the morn-
ing room, but I am not comfortable in morning rooms and
libraries. To get through A Handful of Dust, I had to go
into the drawing room, open the shutters, throw open the
windows— the room needed airing— take the dust sheets
126 Good Enough for Mt. Rochester
off the furniture, and, ignoring Mr. Waugh, push Tony,
Brenda, Mr. Beaver, and the Princess Abdul Akbar into
the room. Then we could get going.
The furnishings of my living room are flexible. If Beth
March toasts bread on a toasting fork over the coals, I
tuft the sofa to match. When we are at Thrushcross Grange,
I carpet the room with crimson, and install a chandelier
which shimmers with little soft tapers. Cathy and Heath-
cliff are peering in the window. When I get to Howard's
End, I put a sword over the mantelpiece for Charles Wilcox
to kill Leonard Bast with. For Mr. Rochester I make the
mantelpiece marble, and the fire is a coal fire. When Nancy
Mitford's Uncle Matthew appears, I hastily shift it to a
wood fire, with plenty of ashes because he gets up very
early in the morning to catch the maids before they take
them out. He is quite right.
Authors are bad about picking up after themselves. Eng-
lish families always leave things around, copies of the Tat-
lei and Sketch on the tables, riding crops or gloves on
the chimney piece (Uncle Matthew, now that he's come in,
doesn't think nice people say "mantelpiece" ) . These have
to be removed before a Russian or American family moves
in. The morning after one of Gatsby's parties, there are
rings from glasses on all the consoles and chiff onieres. I have
Jeeves take them off with a little salt and oil mixed, before
the Duchess of Wrexe arrives. She would not approve.
Carol Kennicott is a nuisance, because she redecorates.
She takes out the golden-oak table with brass knobs, the
moldy brocade chairs, and the picture of "The Doctor."
It doesn't occur to her that I have to move them in first.
But I help her bring in a new broad sofa with pillows of
sapphire velvet with gold bands, though, left to myself, I
would omit the gold bands. What really disturbs me is that,
in the course of the redecoration, someone says there is no
fireplace. This is out of the question, so I compromise by
making it a gas log to go with the town of Gopher Prairie.
For Moths, by Ouida, I have to make the whole room
white, and bring in "banks and pyramids of rose-hued
azaleas," as the only touch of color. Now we are in Prince
ZourofFs drawing room at Villafranca, where Correze, the
famous tenor who is also a marquis and who loves the
beautiful and saintly Vere, Princess Zouroff, sings some
verses of Sully Prudhomme which insult Prince Zouroff,
a brute who is being unfaithful with a quadroon called
Casse-une-Croute. Honest. Princess Zouroff is wearing
white velvet, with a knot of white lilac at her breast, her
only ornament the great pearls, and so on. I've gone into
detail, because no one but me has read Moths. It is well
worth doing over the living room for, although I cringe
every time I paint the piano white. I doubt if it's good for
So, on the whole, my room is serviceable, and, except in
unusual cases like the above, the furniture remains much
the same, of a period one might call literary nondescript.
Authors are not much interested in furniture. And fre-
quently I have tenants like Archibald Marshall's Squire,
who says that what was good enough for his father is good
enough for him, so Mrs. Clinton doesn't dare change any-
But, for no reason that I can explain satisfactorily or
psychiatrically, certain things cannot be altered. One, as I
have mentioned, is the fireplace. Another is the position of
the piano. If an author puts the piano in the diagonally op-
posite, or northeast corner, I try to cooperate. I block up
the door into the garden, and put a window there instead.
128 Good Enough for Mr. Rochester
I stop myself from putting a radiator under the window, be-
cause that would be bad for the piano. But while I'm doing
this, the piano scoots across the room, swivels around-
scuffing up rugs in the process— and fits itself into its origi-
nal corner. I push it back, suppress the radiator again,
and put blocks in front of the piano's feet, to keep it in
place. It pushes the blocks in front of it and moves right
back to where it originally was, slowly.
The intransigence of my piano makes getting in a second
one very difficult. A great-aunt of mine wrote a book in which
she described studying with Liszt in Weimar. My great-
aunt and Liszt were banging away happily (four hands) in
my living room, when she startled me by mentioning an oc-
casion when Liszt sat down and accompanied her in a
Rubinstein concerto at a second piano. I knew I couldn't
turn my piano around, so I had to yank it out into the room,
and quickly stick another (going the other way) in behind
it, so the first one couldn't roll back into the corner.
Certain books are pre-living-room, and for these I have
a modification of my living room. It is a baronial hall, with a
high ceiling with smoked-up rafters. At the north end is a
dais, with a dinner table for important people, like Cedric
the Saxon and Rowena. On the east wall is the fireplace— a
huge one with suckling pigs on spits. In the middle of the
room is a large table for serfs, and the door into the hall
(or courtyard) is in the usual position on the west wall.
I use the baronial hall for fairy stories, for historical and
mythical works, for taverns (with several small tables
instead of one big one) , and for Islandian interiors. I also use
it for the Odyssey, with Penelope's loom on the dais, and the
suitors sitting around in the middle of the hall.
Homer is easy to visualize because, unlike most authors,.
he is orderly. His characters always put their spears away
in a well-worn rack. Eurycleia hangs up Telemachus' tunic
on a peg. Odysseus' bow is kept in a case, also hung on a peg.
Homer makes it clear what he thinks of the suitors, by
describing them many times as throwing their cloaks down
He also has a feeling for comfort. I know no other author
who always puts a rack for the feet on his chairs. I would
like to give one of these chairs to Countess Rostov.
Recently when I read Robert Graves's Homer's Daughter,
I was happy to find I could use the same hall with the same
furnishings. Mr. Graves believes the Odyssey was written
by a woman, possibly because of Homer's neatness. I think
Mr. Graves is wrong: neatness is not a feminine, but an
epic, quality. This means it takes time. In his short, modern
book, Mr. Graves cannot be as neat as Homer. He leaves
some purple covers soaking in a trough, and I think they
have mildewed and run. Homer would have taken them
out, dried them in the sun, and put them away in a well-
The one knotty problem in the Odyssey is Odysseus'
bed. I must explain that, for ordinary circumstances, I have
two bedrooms. One is a very small hall bedroom, contain-
ing a bed, a chest of drawers, and a desk. I use it for squalid
and poverty-stricken scenes, and, a little cleaned up, for
struggling young geniuses in big cities. Raskolnikov lives
here, and it is also here that, after stooping to folly with
the young man carbuncular, I smooth my hair with auto-
matic hand and put a record on the gramophone. The gramo-
phone is on the desk.
My other bedroom is very large, with a double four-post
bed, and a luxurious dressing table with silver toilet arti-
130 Good Enough ioi Mr. Rochester
cles. When I am sitting at the dressing table, brushing my
hair, His Lordship looks at me in the mirror over my bare
shoulder. Next to this bedroom is a dressing room where
His Lordship sleeps when we are having a fight.
Odysseus' bed is too big for the hall bedroom. One of the
bedposts of Odysseus' bed is an olive tree, in girth much
like a pillar, which he built the bed around. He cut off the
top, and smoothed the sides with an ax. I tried this bed in
my large luxurious bedroom, and for a while it was fine.
Then in the middle of Penelope and Odysseus in bed telling
each other about everything, I realized that the trunk of the
olive tree must come right up through the living room which
is on the floor below.
Now, I do have a version of my baronial hall which has a
tree in it. This, of course, is Hunding's hall, and the tree is
Der Esche Stamm (or the Branstock, if we are in the Norse
instead of the Wagnerian version). This tree is for gods
with nothing better to do to thrust swords into. But
it is too much for me to turn Der Esche Stamm into an olive
tree and get it up through the ceiling onto the second floor,
and what would I do with the room below afterwards? Odys-
seus' bedroom has got to be on the ground floor, and this is
how I realized that Ithacans lived in bungalows. I don't
like it, because for me things don't happen in bungalows.
Besides, Odysseus' bed sprouts every spring, and I have
to keep cutting off the top with an ax. Still one must ex-
pect to have to take a certain amount of trouble if one
reads the classics.
Only very secure readers can afford to have a great many
rooms. I keep mine to a minimum because I'm afraid not
to. I don't like rooms to get out of control. In Kafka's The
Trial, the room which leads to the Interrogation Chamber
is empty except for a washtub, but when K. returns it is a
completely furnished living room. This almost threw me,
but I managed it. (I put a screen around the washtub.) Poe
did let a room get out of control, and the results were bad.
Rooms are alive in a different way than we are, but their life is
just barely conceivable, like that on Mars, where canals
dig themselves while whistling airless be-bop between their
long white teeth if I don't watch myself. Suppose I let
Raskolnikov have a room for his very own? When I open
the door I may find him playing Liszt's "Totentanz" on two
binaural gramophones, while a chair with a rest for the feet
dances with a white grand piano. I can't chance this kind
of thing. I mean to lead a long, healthy life and continue
to read books with rooms and not lower my guard for a
132 Good Enough for Mi. Rochester
Titles on the Loose
TITLE IS A DELICATE THING. YOU DO
not work on it. Either it is elusive, and you continue to cast a
net until you catch it, or it is there, and you recognize it.
Trapping titles is a high point of the writer's art, so naturally
enough editors always want to change them. Editors don't
catch titles: they think them up. When an editor sees an
author's title, his pencil itches. It's not a question of the
editor's title being better. It's a question of its being differ-
This is not a pedestrian-versus-motorist complaint. I
have been both, and when I was an editor I thought up some
brilliant titles. Inevitably, the stiff-necked writer yelled
murder. He was suffering from the mistaken notion that
what he had produced was his.
Yet the writer has a consolation, as private as a vice. These
are the beautiful titles which appear from nowhere, but
which never achieve stones. Sometimes they are so compel-
ling that one struggles for a long time to create tails for these
kites. Eventually one must become reconciled to the fact
that their being is as unique and fugitive as that of a mule.
They are dubious in ancestry and barren of descendants.
I have several such titles, and all of them are more
weighted with significance and suggestiveness than many
pieces of writing I have struggled over. One of them is "Stop
Moving Pianos in My Dreams." It was, of course, a real
dream, and a tiring one, and I am not interested in any
amateur psychoanalysis on the subject. It is possible that
it is meant for the refrain of a song. I mention this be-
cause my cooler judgment tells me that it is somewhat comi-
cal ("You may cut my rugs. You may shake my beams.
But STOP . . . etc."). But its true quality for me is not
comical. It is the ultimate in renunciation. It represents
the finality of a decision made after long stress and strain,
when some outrageous act has precipitated a total break.
It is the worm turning. It is calling a halt. Stop moving pianos
in my dreams.
On another level is a title that eats at me because I can-
not place it: "When Creek Meets Creek." Is it profound or
frivolous? Creek meeting creek is infinitely poetical, and
the creeks could symbolize two people. But these people
are Indians. Why does this make it funny? Am I anti-
Creek? This one harasses me. I will give it away to anyone
who can use it.
I am much clearer about the unfulfilled purpose of my
next title. A few years ago I was engaged in clearing out a
family house in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The house was
being sold to the Mormon Church, which was forming a
center there. I resented my occupation: as everyone knows
who has done it, it is physically tiring and spiritually dis-
piriting to dismantle another generation. I had nothing
against the Mormons, who were good, pleasant, and ex-
tremely respectable, except that, as good people can, they
made me feel raffish. When they came to see me and to
measure things, I knew they were quite tolerant about
the fact that they often found me drinking coffee or smok-
ing a cigarette. Did they see the bottles on the sideboard? It
1 34 Titles on the Loose
was something evil in me that made me wander around our
house in my blue jeans, dropping cigarette ash into the
debris of the past, and muttering to myself, "How Latter
Day Can You Get?"
In its brash disdain, this is a magnificent title, but
where can I use it? I am not equipped to write an article
about Mormonism, and I don't particularly want to. If I
did, the editor would change my title to "Whither Mor-
". . . can you get?" is fashionable at the moment, and is
used in the subtitle of another title I like. This one was a
reaction to one of those articles by psychiatrists, which
interprets your neurosis by how you furnish your apart-
ment. The author believed that one expressed one's own
uncertainties, etc., in the furniture one chose. "Breasts,"
he said, "or the lack of them, are frequently a matter of
concern. . . . Breast imagery is indicated in a certain
bloated kind of upholstery."
I resented this article because I felt (see above) that I
had had little choice in the matter of furniture. All my
furniture comes from the old homestead, so it says nothing
about me except that I do, too. A lot of it belonged to my
grandmother, and is bloated. She was not. So the title of
the article I knew I was never going to write in rebuttal
was "Leave My Grandmother's Breasts Out of This," or
"How Tufted Can You Get?"
A title with a colon is particularly portentous. I have
always wanted one. I thought one up once, which to me had
everything: solemnity, provocativeness, optimism, and
colon. It was "Compulsive Sloth: New Hope for the Per-
plexed." The article attached to this title went to a woman's
magazine, and the editors, lively ladies with itchy pencils,
promptly changed it (as you have seen elsewhere) to "What
Have I Been Doing All This Time?" This is a nice title, too.
If they had called my attention to it, I might have written
another article to go with it. Now I can't. Nor can I use
"Compulsive Sloth: New Hope for "the Perplexed" for some-
thing else. It's too bad, but editors have no instinct for
economy with writers' property.
One title haunts me more than the others. It occurred
when, in a noisy restaurant, a friend told me about a book
he had read and admired. I thought I heard him say that
it was called The Gobi Twin. By the time we got it straight,
and I was promising to look up The Go-between by L. P.
Hartley, I was well along with The Gobi Twin by Sylvia
Gobi Twinship is a relationship that has never before
been named, and I don't yet know its full implications. It
may be feeling like a Siamese Twin while being separated
from someone by a desert. It may be feeling like a twin while
a desert opens in one's heart. Or it may be the relationship
between two Mongolian idiots, who, against all odds, stick
to each other through thick and thin on a high windy pla-
teau. It may be all of these, and something more. Somewhere
there is a person whose Gobi Twin I am, and when I find
him, I will know all. I will write the book. Then an editor
will brood and itch, pencil in hand, until, with a murmur of
satisfied triumph, he will change the title to— Time for
136 Titles on the Loose
Me as White Goddess
.ERE WE ARE IN A WORLD OF COM-
promise, cooperation, counseling, conformity, togetherness
and altogetherness. Here we are, trying to be civic-minded,
open-minded, group-adjusted, and regularly dusted.
What a delight in this world to come upon Mr. Robert
Graves, who has offered me the entrancing possibility of
being the White Goddess.
Mr. Graves offers his theory about the White Goddess in
the book of the same name. He elaborates it, with myths,
charms, riddles, tree alphabets, spiral castles, roebucks in
thickets, and other captivating devices, into 392 pages. I
mention this because when I summarize his theory in a
few paragraphs I will be unfair.
On first acquaintance, the theory is complicated, fan-
tastic, but heady.
The White Goddess is, for one thing, the Muse. Male
poets are supposed to invoke the Muse, to be inspired by her,
to describe her, and to elaborate on their relationship with
her, which will supply them with ample authentic poetic sub-
ject matter. Male poets also always lose the Muse, which
supplies them with ample authentic subject matter for poems
about being unrequited.
To explain why they always lose the Muse, one must go
back to the time when history was mythology, except that
Mr. Graves contends that mythology is history. In this
misty and distant period of what I shall hereafter call
mythtory, society was matrilineal. There were no fathers, or
no one knew who they were. Women were top dog and every-
one worshiped the White Goddess.
Depending on where you lived, you might worship her as
a mare, sow, or cow goddess. In various shapes, she was all
over the ancient world, usually also in folds, sometimes three,
sometimes nine. In three, she was bride, mother, and old
woman. In nine, she gets divided up again in terms of
sky, earth, and underworld, and under these in the follow-
ing subheads: new moon, full moon, waning moon; spring,
summer, winter; birth, procreation, death. She covers al-
most all the territory there is (by night light), and a good
deal of poetic subject matter.
On second acquaintance, one finds this theory fantastic,
heady, and exerting a strange fascination. The White God-
dess sounds as if she had a fine time.
Mr. Graves says she is most poetically potent as a moon
goddess. In this guise, she regularly takes as her lover the
God of the Waxing Year. Eventually (six months later,
I assume) , he is killed by the God of the Waning Year, who
in turn becomes the goddess's lover. This keeps up indefi-
nitely. By a method I have not quite mastered, which in-
volves her swallowing a bean or something of the sort, one of
these gods is her son by the other.
On third acquaintance, I wonder if the White Goddess
has as good a time as an ordinary woman.
The poet, says Mr. Graves, identifies himself with the
God of the Waxing Year. Thus he inevitably gets it in the
neck, and this is good for his poetry. I assume that the God
of the Waxing Year is not aware that he will have another
138 Me as White Goddess
inning in another six months. If he were, it would take the
edge off the poetic intensity both of his being unrequited
and of his being dead.
Magic, love, life and death, and the passage of the seasons
are all put together in one poetic hopper, and the brew ( The
White Goddess is full of brew) is the inspiration of the poet.
The White Goddess system prevailed three or four thousand
years ago, and an opposite system (patrilineal and patri-
archal) has prevailed ever since. But, says Mr. Graves,
System Number One is the right one for a poet. Under the
patriarchal system, we have love, life and death, and the
passage of the seasons, but not magic. We have exchanged
magic for fathers, which is bad for poetry.
Poetically speaking, therefore, the only people around,
both then and now, are the White Goddess and these two
up-again, down-again, begin-again gods. What happens if
I, a woman, want to write poetry? I have to be the White
Goddess. There's no other woman around to be.
Mr. Graves makes this perfectly clear, and clear that it
is not easy.
A woman who concerns herself with poetry should, I believe,
either be a silent Muse and inspire the poets by her womanly
presence ... or she should be the Muse in a complete sense;
she should be in turn Arianrhod, Blodeuwedd and the Old Sow
of Maenawr Penardd who eats her farrow, [Welsh aspects of the
White Goddess] and should write in each of these capacities with
antique authority. She should be the visible moon : impartial, lov-
ing, cruel, wise.
The White Goddess is also capricious, in spite of the
fact that she seems to operate with clockwork regularity.
She is woman in three ages, three seasons, and three differ-
ent places, which should give her leeway to have a multi-
140 Me as White Goddess
plicity of varied characteristics. But she has a distinct and,
I think I can fairly say, rather limited personality. To put
it succinctly, she is a fiend.
All this works out well and is quite thrilling for the male
poet, granted he can look at the visible moon and believe
that it is in love with him. I can't, of course, being a woman.
I am practicing looking at it and believing that it is I. It is
a testimonial to the power of Mr. Graves's theory that I
find this easier and almost possible.
Mr. Graves permits the male poet to make some partic-
ular woman his Muse or incarnation of the White Goddess
as long as the woman doesn't become so domestic and virtu-
ous that she ceases to harry him. If she's too domestic, he
won't write poetry. Poetic love is bad, or illicit, love.
This is all right with me, but, as a woman poet, I am not
allowed to make any particular man my White God. There
is no such God. I might have had Apollo, but Mr. Graves
is against him. The Greek philosophers, who were opposed to
magical poetry, dethroned the White Goddess and developed
rational poetry celebrating Apollo. Apollo is reasonable and
true poetry is not. True poetry raises the hairs on the back
of the neck.
The reason, he says, "why the hairs stand on end, the
skin crawls and a shiver runs down the spine when one
writes or reads a true poem is that a true poem is necessarily
an invocation of the White Goddess . . . the ancient power
of fright and lust— the female spider or the queen-bee whose
embrace is death."
All my life I have had to do things like wear shoes, go to
dancing school, study arithmetic, be polite, go to cocktail
parties, take vitamins, and wash dishes. I would love to
have shivers run down my spine. The beautiful phrase,
antique authority, excites me. How can I help but be de-
lighted with the idea of being an ancient power of fright
and lust? It should be easy. It is supposed to be fatally
easy to strip off the trappings of civilization.
It is surprisingly difficult.
I have no trouble with the folds, nor will most women,
poets or not. Early in 1957, Mr. Graves lectured on the
White Goddess in the United States. I wonder if he realized
that, on the occasion I heard him, the uneasy and uncanny
giggling in the audience came from women who were in the
process of turning themselves into White Goddesses. I don't
know about women in matriarchic societies, but both the
strength and the weakness of women in patriarchal socie-
ties is that they take everything personally. If you do this,
you can be as any fold as you wish.
Women in patriarchal societies are brought up to try to
be ladies, whch on the whole means to behave like gentle-
men. When such a woman feels it is no longer any go with
the God of the Waxing Year, she says, "Go," adding some-
thing like "I'm sure you can make some other woman
happy." Not the White Goddess. She says, "Drop dead,"
and the god does. If he doesn't, she gets someone to make
Of course, metaphorically speaking, gentlemanly be-
havior in this case could thoroughly gum up the passage of
the seasons. Unmetaphorically speaking, if I, as a woman
poet in the twentieth century, said, "Drop dead," and they
did, I would soon be in so much trouble that I would have
no time to write poetry at all.
But let us assume that to write good poetry I must be
illicit and ungentlemanly. Even so, I incline to certain kinds
142 Me as White Goddess
of poetic subject matter and poetry which Mr. Graves won't
let me have.
The first is juvenilia. A White Goddess couldn't have
juvenilia, and if she did she would throw them away. But as
far as I can tell the White Goddess never grew up. She
never went through a phase, or an impressionable age, or
learned anything, like how to make pot holders or how to
distinguish between different kinds of men. She just is. I
don't know why, but I have a feeling she isn't very clean.
Unfortunately for me, I grew up. I went through an im-
pressionable period, and there was a patriarchal figure
around at the time. I was supposed to learn to distinguish
between men. One basis was that some wanted only one
thing and some wanted several. The patriarchal figure had
evidently wanted several, including me, so I got the idea
that safety was in numbers.
Being licit and gentlemanly is staid. I understand why
Mr. Graves, a patriarchal figure himself, finds patriarchal
society boresome. But patriarchal societies offer me, and, I
suspect from reading his book, him, a charming compensa-
tion—romantic notions. In and of themselves, romantic no-
tions aren't poems, but blow them up, decorate them, send
them aloft, and they can be.
The White Goddess is impartial. I take it this means
that she likes the God of the Waning Year just as well as
the God of the Waxing Year— or just as little. Because of
my romantic notions, which are more rock-ribbed and in-
destructible than my gentlemanliness, I find it almost im-
possible to be impartial. I like some waxing and waning
gods much better than others. Some I could love to utter
distraction. This is not White Goddessy. She is destructive.
Loving someone to utter distraction is, depending upon
what happens, either constructive or self-destructive. Being
self-destructive in this way is proper for men poets, but not
for women. Clearly it is my father's fault if I feel this way.
I do. What I want to know is, why can't it be poetical for
I am not allowed to love to utter distraction, so I can't
be unrequited either. A big dollop of poetic subject matter
is ruled out.
Maybe there is a moment between waxing and waning
gods when Mr. Graves's attention is distracted, and I could
slip being unrequited in.
But I think not. I think this is the moment when I should
swoop savagely like a female spider in an impartial sort
I can understand the fascination of the White Goddess.
The rest of us being perverse, indifferent people are fas-
cinating. Why shouldn't she be indifferent when she always
knows that another god is on the way? All her needs are
neatly taken care of. I suspect she is so indifferent that she
wouldn't have either the necessary tension or the necessary
energy to write poetry at all.
Well, what can I write about? Men poets are supposed
to write poems praising the White Goddess. I can write
poems praising me. This I like, but I think it might be hard
It is particularly hard to sustain when the waxing and
waning gods with whom one happens to be acquainted
have also grown up in a patriarchal society. One God of
the Waxing Year on whom I had my cold blue ( White-God-
dess-type) eye described to me what he felt would be the
perfect relationship with literary women (he liked White
Goddesses in the plural). "First," he said, "I'd make love
144 Me as White Goddess
to them (this is a euphemism). Then I'd give them ideas."
He has it all wrong. I am supposed to give him ideas.
If one is literary, many waxing and waning gods derive
their greatest pleasure from pointing out literary lapses:
one does not know, for example, how to place the word
"only," or has not really mastered the correct rhythms of
Here a new element enters: some of the time they know
what they are talking about and I learn something. Little
boys in patriarchal societies, even democratic ones, know all
sorts of things which little girls don't. This starts when
your brother knows the makes and years of all the automo-
biles, and you don't care. As time goes on, men gather exact
and detailed knowledge of all sorts of esoterica of which
women have barely heard.
If you are a woman, it can be exciting to have them tell
you how to connect a sump pump, what parity is, or how
to scan sprung rhythm. You go and surreptitiously get out
of the library the book they were raving about while you
were wondering why their eyebrows grew like that. Some-
where in this not uncommon situation, or in my feelings
about it, is some poetic subject matter. Isn't there?
Mr. Graves would say no. The White Goddess has all
the wisdom and she imparts it to the poet. There's no allow-
ance for a situation in which he tells her a thing or two.
I am so patriarchally degenerate that I even feel there is
something I might learn from Mr. Graves. Must he insist
that instead I should eat him up?
Aside from my praising me, what have I left in the way
of poetic subject matter?
At the very moment the White Goddess theory sprang
full-blown from Mr. Graves's head, he had on his desk a
little box which he never knew until later was ornamented
with a design celebrating the White Goddess of an African
tribe. This, he says, might be coincidence, but more likely
was an unconscious inspiration.
I had a similar inadvertent experience. I took some notes
on Mr. Graves's book, and when I came to read them over,
I found something (my handwriting is poor) that read:
'The woman poet must write as a worm." Of course I had
intended to write woman, but this is no joke. There is some-
thing in it, and I must have known it subconsciously. The
White Goddess has the capacity to assume different shapes:
she becomes a bitch, an otter, a falcon, a black hen, or a
sow, in all of which manifestations she pursues men.
This mystic sign convinced me that as a woman poet my
next move must be to write a poem about turning myself
into a worm. In a trice, I did it. At present I am humping
my way along what appears to be a very large highway look-
ing for a man to pursue.
But there is something wrong. I feel queer.
I have just realized what it is. As a worm, I am bisexual.
Now I have sat down on the edge of the highway to think
this over. Can I pursue myself? Do I want to?
It's going to be an exciting poem and quite unique. Graves
is right. I should write as the White Goddess. It opens up
hitherto unexplored vistas.
Fve figured out what to do. I am destructive and I have
cut myself in half. I have also figured out who I am going
to pursue. I'm not sure yet which one of us is which, but
we will both be along, any year now, in hot pursuit. Tallyho,
146 Me as White Goddess
The Fleers of Back ford English
^L^N MY FIRST VISIT TO ROME I KNEW NO
Italian, and I immediately needed a dictionary. On a hand-
cart in the Via Cavour I found an Italian-English and Eng-
lish-Italian one, compiled by Prof. W. Backford. It was the
eighth edition, revised and corrected, so it looked sound.
I didn't expect Italian to be easy. The sun was brilliant;
the buildings were a hot orange; automobiles were charging
at motor scooters and motor scooters were roaring at each
other; in the middle of it all a policeman with white gloves
too long in the fingers was conducting an invisible orchestra,
and I was told the word for accident is dfsgrazia. The word
for confusion or turmoil is tiambusto y which seemed possi-
ble when I looked at what was happening to the traffic.
Jmbarazzo, according to Prof. Backford, is embarrassment,
or pinch. That was the way things were the first few days.
Prof. W. Backford sounded as if he might be British. Many
of the people who write phrase books and dictionaries for
English-speaking travelers are British, which makes it dif-
ficult for us, because when we go shopping we have to find
out first what camiknickers are before we know if we want
them. Though they try to help us out, as in a section called
"General Difficulties," which goes like this: "What do you
want? I don't know you. I don't want to speak to you. Don't
bother me! Go away! That will do. I shall call a policeman.
Help! This man is following me everywhere. That man.
I want to see the American Consul."
I didn't expect Italian to be easy, but I didn't expect to
have to learn Backford English first before I could begin on
Italian. But things often are strange in foreign countries.
You have to accept them and try to overbrow them. For
this, you need raciness, which, according to Backford, is
the English for forza di spirito. Any place where force of
spirit is raciness is fine with me.
On second thought, I realized that Prof. Backford is not
wholly English. I believe he is half English, the offspring of
a lord with a racy spirit, who spent a night or so in a Tuscan
town, and departed for England unaware that behind him
he had left something of the mother country and a future
Backford has never been in England, but he thinks about
it often. Backford wonders about the father whom he has
never seen and whom he imagines as tall and blond. He
deplores his own sparkling brown eyes and smooth tan skin.
When he speaks English, the Italian precision of his vowels
worries him. Yet when he speaks Italian, he sounds for-
eign. He looks wistfully after British tourists and haunts
English tearooms, where he orders marmalade and crumpets.
Though it occurs seldom, because he is poor, his greatest
pleasure is to have a meal in a truly British hotel, such as
the Brufani Palace in Perugia, where the dining-room voices
are subdued to a British quiet,, and the menu offers English
specialties like jambon de Yorck.
Piled up in Backford's small dusty room are many Eng-
lish dictionaries, and he studies them until late at night. He
is without snobbery: all English words are equal to him and
equally glorious. He does not know that some have gone
148 The Fleeis oi Backford English
out of style. Sometimes when it gets late, and his eyes are
tired, his pencil slips. And sometimes as his vision blurs, a
word slips off one page, finds elsewhere another word it likes,
and joins it. In the morning, Backford happily accepts what
he finds, unaware that it has coined itself. These evenings
are the center of Backford's life, and its fulfillment: he is
making something which may help the British travelers he
admires so much.
I had to get a couple of other dictionaries, including a
larger Italian-English and English-Italian one, and a Web-
ster's New International Dictionary, second edition, una-
bridged, to find out the meanings of many of Backford's
words. Some are words I just didn't happen to know about;
for example: to conglobe, to evulgate, to glomerate, to im-
park, to manducate, to scantle, and to moil. These mean,
respectively: to roll up into a ball, to publish, to pile up,
to ring with gardens, to eat, to cut up small, and to drudge
or overexert yourself (another word for this is overply).
Backford has a secret vice: though London is his Mecca,
and he tells himself that it must be grander, infinitely more
fulgent and supern, he is in love with Rome. When he goes
there, he takes a holiday from crumpets and finds the food
extraordinarily saporific. He is leisurely over his refections,
and drinks a good deal of wine. Then a delicious dribblet
steals over him, in which he forgets that he can never be
British. (Dribblet is inerzia, and, I believe, means inertia
with fountains.) Backford eats in an outdoor cafe.
There are some Backford words to which the English we
know gives no clue. In fact, knowing any English ahead of
time uncliuws one (this means undo, doubtless originally
in Welsh). To dreal, for instance, means to elongate. To
decumb is to put down sprawlingly. Fimsy is thin. A fleer
150 The Fleeis of Backioid English
(a cousin once removed of a leer) is a trick or joke, as are
also an obreption and a subreption, which seem to be of
Scottish origin. The first sounds more obvious (a practical
fleer) and the second more underhand.
Backford has a poetic nature: in his English a premature
baby is a castling. In his wanderings he has listened to
Italian church bells, and when he comes to the word suonare,
he translates it "clang, knoll, tingle, tink," an onomato-
poetic conglobation. He has listened to Italians talking
in the streets: he knows that if one of them attles long
enough, he may exulcerate the other. They will begin to
bisker, and it will all end in a brangle.
As he walks along in a dream of dictionaries, words leap
in his head and he notes them down, not always sure where
they have come from. To him they sound like English. They
must be English. Agrestical, for example, means rustic or
wild, or both. Insaurate means restored. A morsure is a
bite or a mouthful, perhaps by a person who wears dentures.
Oblectation is pleasure, and sorriness (poor Backford!) is
With some of Backford's words, one feels one knows
what they mean, but one is wrong. What is a dorr— one of
those faces with a ring in its teeth to knock with? No, a dorr
is a bumblebee. I thought gamashes must be the things
on Roman ceilings— gold clouds, garlands, angels, shields,
naked ladies, tiompe l'oeil columns. No, gamashes are some-
thing very British. They are gaiters.
Backford likes the Roman ceilings and he knows that
whatever is on them scambles and scrufBes, two words which
mean the same thing. Backford hopes they will never dis-
garnish the ceilings of Rome.
Where did Backford find the verb to jety? His synonym
is to flirt, but I think he is trying to be discreet and British,
for obviously it means to make love (amoreggiare) . When
Backford went to the Piazza del Campidoglio, I wonder
if he looked up at the second floor of the Capitoline Mu-
seum. If he did and the window was open, he saw Cupid and
Psyche in marble, jetying with their naked backs to the
window. I am sure that he reflected on the fact that Roma
is amor backwards, just like Cupid and Psyche.
Backford has his moments of genius: he offers the tour-
ists many words at once more economical and richer than
their own. Untreacable means impossible to find again once
youVe lost it, and inenarrable means impossible to speak
of. Elutriate (from elute, to rinse) means to pour water
carefully. For years, we have needed the word incrassate,
which means to get fat and /or rich. And rapts— a combi-
nation word meaning abduction and religious ecstasy. If
you are in a rapts, you wish to be abducted supernly, that
In spite of his objections, Backford's publishers forced
him to keep his dictionary small. But he has squeezed into
it some splendid words that cannot be found elsewhere. For
instance, to darindle. This means to shall, but obviously it
means to shall in a particular way, perhaps more Roman
than British. Backford darindles through Rome, not shall-
ing so hard that he wears himself out, not moiling or over-
plying, but just shalling casually along, stopping on the
way for a morsure of ice cream or an espresso in the
Piazza Navona. If he doesn't like it when he has darindled
to where he is going, he can always divindle back.
Backford is perhaps at his most inspired when he takes
an English word and gives it a new meaning. To pill is to
despoil. To jade is to give in. He is also clever at making
152 The Fleers oi Backford English
verbs out of nouns: to fuzz is to weaken the fibers of, and
to nick is to encounter someone at the right moment.
Only very occasionally does Backford admit himself de-
feated by a word. One example is the verb to cere, for which
the Italian is passare h ceia. This seems to mean to pass
the beeswax. Backford gives no further information. So I
have decided that to cere is a conglobation which means to
carry a torch while not being able to hold a candle to, a
condition in which one feels very lown (buono a nulla).
All the time I was studying Backford English, I sensed
that in its creation was hidden a definite, though unex-
pressed, purpose. Backford English was meant for some-
thing, but what?
At first I thought it might be for writing Italian guide-
books in English. The Italians are very accommodating
about providing such guidebooks, and their English is spe-
cially designed for this purpose. "Gorgeous and picturesque
points of view, clear and distant backgrounds rise every-
where from the soil in an uninterrupted waving. The rav-
aged spleen of bygone times, mixed up with the present
splendour, shines as a serene vision from the heights of
Eternity/' This is Rome, where "numerous styles, ages, and
memories are superposed in very little room. . . . That
makes of Rome a Paradise for archaeologists and learned
people, but these people don't detain the secret of her
beauty and grandeur." (The author thinks it takes an artist.)
Still, there are many words in Backford that I have never
found in the guidebooks. The guidebooks sometimes ob-
tund things, and once you master him, Backford is always
lucent. After giving this some thought, I realized what
Backford had in mind.
Going to Rome is frustrating for a penner like me. Every-
thing you can say about Rome has already been written by
someone. You can have it according to Henry Adams, or
Nathaniel Hawthorne, or Mark Twain, or many other
talented penners. By 1869 Mark Twain was already frus-
trated. All he could find to do was to write a whole chapter
about the history of the Colosseum, without— this was a
point of pride— once using the phrase "butchered to make
a Roman holiday." Backford would have approved: he also
dislikes cliches. He might have offered Mark Twain "scan-
tied to make a Roman vacancy/'
Yet, all the time, you know that it's you who has dis-
covered Rome. I mean, it is I. So Backford English is for
me to describe Rome as it has never been described before.
Because I do detain the secret of its beauty and grandeur.
I imbosom it. In fact, I cere it.
Rome is eternally darindling, and who knows where? It
is full of curiosities: in this lucent city, there is a lighthouse
without anything to light. A church in the shape of a dorr
uprises in a tower twisted together at the top like a paper
bag. There is the Colosseum, which someone said looked
like an abandoned dorrhive, though actually, pilled as it
is, it looks like something abnormously natural, the craters
of the moon— a full moon in an unobnubilate sky, seen on
a noctambulation. Something abnormously unnatural is the
house in the Via Gregoriana, whose door is trying to take a
great morsure, perhaps of an obelisk. There is one in the
next square, and there are many others, fimsy and drealed
against the sky, scattered around the city.
The fountains of Rome darindle most of all, elancing sea
monsters, naiads, tritons, Neptunes, and Moors, and jets
of water that all the raffs and cits of Rome dibble their
hands in. Everything that can be is eluted and bedashed.
154 The Fleers of Backford English
In a garden in the Palazzo del Conservator!, a crouched,
skew little man elutriates water out of a wine sack. A Tri-
ton perflates it through a horn. There are dolphins every-
where in pairs, raddling their tails together. All over Rome,
water clangs, knolls, tingles, and tinks, even in the church
below the Church of San Clemente where it runs in fus-
cous caverns, while above, in the mosaic of the apse, the
faithful, as lambs, imbrue their feet. Not to mention that
decumbed glomeration, the Trevi Fountain. I could over-
slaugh with oblectation when I think of it.
History is apeak in this city. Everything is up and down
and glomerated in layers. How many generations have in-
crassated here! How many have lived in sorriness! All now
are inhumate. How frangible the monuments, yet how as-
tunding their curious durity! Much is excrescent, much
decrescent, and all of it is on display, even Saint Teresa in
her rapts, watched by marble men in theater boxes. But,
insolate under the austral sun, bedaggled, bedusted, and
fuliginous, these tarmished ruins still are fulgent.
Before such sights, the senses actuate, while the mind
fuzzes. Overswayed and lown, you feel you might jade to
morbose and nocent thoughts. Pretermit them. Where his-
tory is so decumbed, it is natural to feel mistimed. Offward
the farmost outstreets lead from the agrestical Campagna
into Rome, and all roads will always continue to darindle
there. Oh supern, fulvous city, insaurate and uninsaurate,
pilled yet imparked, incompressible, inenarrable, full of
Shortly before I left Rome I saw a sign scrawled in chalk
on the wall of the Palazzo Barberini, which said, like this:
MUSA. I was overswayed by oblection to find that some-
one was invoking the Muse.
If I hadn't studied Backford, I might have had my feel-
ings hurt. I might have brooded about those two upside-
down V's, which, they tell me, mean the opposite of Viva,
that is, "Down with." I might have thought USA meant
me. But studying Backford English gives you a new point
of view. It oversets things.
Before I departed, I went back to look for MUSA again,
but it was untreacable. It had nicked me.
156 The Fleers oi Backiord English
Jumping at the World
How to Avoid Emotional Maturity
^^JSP PENING A NEWSPAPER OR MAGAZINE
these days is like opening Pandora's box. The moment you
do, someone swarms all over you and asks a series of per-
Are you lovable? Tactful? Optimistic? Irritable? Dis-
gruntled? Sorry for yourself? Do you keep up? How ob-
serving are you? Are you well-rounded?
Some people feel compelled to answer all the questions
asked them, and others, more blessed, don't. I am one of
those who have to. How do you fight a cold? they ask. I
put down the magazine and tell them. Splitting nails? No,
but on my left little finger— In a radio speech during the
1956 election campaign, Adlai Stevenson asked, ''Have the
last four years been good for you?" "Yes and no, Adlai,"
I began eagerly, and I went on to tell him all about them,
missing the rest of his speech.
This is an addiction. I realized I had it badly when, on a
rainy day in a summer house, I took an intricate test which
both a husband and wife were supposed to answer in op-
posing columns. I am neither, but I pretended to be both.
We were incompatible.
Unlike Adlai, who sounded interested, most of the ques-
tion askers are determined to prove to me that I am not
whatever-it-is, so that they can tell me to reexamine and
Teshape myself. They succeed. I think I am well-rounded
here and there, but I feel I had better make sure. I always
turn out to be square.
Their tone is bland, but their technique is stealthy.
There is always one right answer. Considering how in-
adequate I am, it is surprising that I can recognize it. Here
is an example from a test to gauge one's independence. You
are supposed to check one of the three statements, as being
most like yourself.
A. Time often hangs heavy on my hands, especially if some
certain person is away or unavailable.
B. My own duties and responsibilities, along with what I do
for others, keep me busy and content.
C. Bored? Not unless I'm flat on my back. As long as I can
kick up my heels and go, time flies.
A, who is in love, is overdependent. As you will see later,
this is what "in love" means. C is irresponsible. B is the
head of the class, though I can think of almost no one who
could honestly check it aside from Beth in Little Women,
who wasn't a bit independent.
Here is another series from the same test.
A. I'm not apt to think much about convention and dignity.
I sort of follow the crowd in matters of propriety.
C. There are no rules that can't be broken if a matter were
sufficiently challenging— especially silly customs.
B. My world is built on substantiality and convention, and I
believe in living in it in a dignified, respectable manner.
Note how they try to trick me. Just in case I am getting
into a habit and expect to find the right answer in the mid-
dle, they have stuck good old B down at the bottom. A is
still the hat-over-the-windmill character of the previous
group, and C is the moony one.
160 How to Avoid Emotional Maturity
I have checked A in the first group and C in the second,
and I am getting good and mad. I'd like to point out that
I am quite busy a lot of the time. Has anyone said I didn't
get my work done? Well, then. Why can't I just once in a
while, wander around thinking about some certain person?
And how could my world be built on substantiality and con-
vention? My world is, of course, built on me.
When I finished the test, they told me I was "the per-
sonification of human variableness." This isn't true. While
that smug B is all over the place being busy, dignified, and
good, who is faithfully thinking about some certain person?
Often they arrange the test in such a way that, after I
have taken it in a humble and cooperative spirit, they
turn on me. Is your mother-in-law an asset? they asked me.
I don't have a mother-in-law, but I obligingly made one
up, based on someone I thought could be she, and took
the test. She wasn't too bad, but she wasn't a terrific asset
When I got to the end of the test, and totted it up, they
told me sternly that I should think seriously about my
own behavior and ask myself if I were a good daughter-in-
law. This is backhanded. They asked me a straight question
about my mother-in-law, not about me.
It is my fault for answering the questions. But how does
one acquire an addiction? One way is by constantly being
offered the opportunity to indulge it.
Never in the whole history of human endeavor have so
many people been so busily engaged in pointing out to so
many other people what was wrong with them, and how
they could improve themselves. It makes me wonder. If
there are many who get as low marks on these tests as I do,
the country is in a bad way.
Owing to my addiction, I have discovered that most of
my basic ideas are, if not off, a little awry.
An example was a test called "How Lovable Are You?"
I thought I knew what lovable meant, but I began to doubt
that I did when they asked, "Are you honest and above-
board about money, sex, religion, etc?" I certainly didn't
know what they meant by etc., but I knew about honest
and aboveboard. I gathered they wanted to know, for some
obscure reason of their own, if I spoke my mind about
money, sex, and religion. Frequently I don't, so I got a
bad mark. I kept expecting them to ask me if I were affec-
tionate, but they didn't. They asked if I were sloppy and
carelessly groomed at home, and I got another black mark.
It was the same with "Are You Impulsive?" Impulsive
means to act on impulse, and an impulse is a sudden incite-
ment to action. I didn't think being impulsive was a cure-
all for everything, but I thought it might be useful occasion-
ally. On the whole I thought it an attractive quality.
I couldn't have been more wrong. In this test, I came
out middling. "You can greatly reduce your mistakes and
regrets if you apply better judgment and control," they
told me. The straight A person in this test is told, "You
wisely and maturely curb your emotions when you feel an
urge to act impulsively."
I do no better when we come to the important questions
of love, marriage, mates, etc., and I think you know what
I mean by etc. In this field, my life always needs reshaping.
"Are people in love usually happy?" a column in the
Daily Minor asked me. "Yes," I said promptly, thinking
they meant two people who were in love with each other.
They did mean two people who were in love with each
other, but I was still wrong.
162 How to Avoid Emotional Maturity
"People 'in love' are very much like people who have
manic-depressive insanity— they have periods of exalted
ecstasy and of profound depression. . . . Each one's hap-
piness or unhappiness depends almost entirely on the
other's attitudes, words, tones of voice, etc. People who
allow their lives to depend on someone else [their italics] can
never be continuously happy."
They didn't say "continuously" before.
The Daily Minor is not the only publication that thinks
"in love" is queer. Elsewhere it is referred to as "love
neurosis." You should get it tamped down or over with be-
fore making the important decision to marry.
The Daily Minor was anxious for me to get things
straight: they said that Public Affairs Pamphlet No. 161,
So You Think It's Love! would be a big help to me in this
The idea of love being public affairs convinced me that
I had had the wrong idea all along. So I, deluded A-C,
personification of human variableness, sent for it.
It turned out to be addressed to teen-agers. Apparently
everyone over this age has solved this problem. I am not
only variable, unlovable, and middling impulsive, I am
However, Public Affairs Pamphlet No. 161 is revolution-
ary. It says people do not fall in love at all. This is a false
notion which "goes back to the days when people were apt
to say love is blind.' "
People grow into love. You cannot love someone until
you know him very well. And you cannot do it at all until you
become the right kind of person, at which point you will
attract the right kind of person, who is dependable, even-
tempered, thoughtful, kind, considerate, helpful, friendly,
honest, and affectionate.
The writer of the pamphlet says that young people "have
almost come to think of these qualities as old-fashioned."
But, he says happily, "people are old-fashioned. The same
kind of people have been coming into the world with the
same needs and the same drives for thousands of years."
I agree with this, but I had thought that for thousands
of years the same kind of people had been falling in love. I
got this idea from some old-fashioned people like Catullus
and Shakespeare. Now I am quite mixed up about what
has been going on and what is old-fashioned. A boy scout,
for instance, certainly isn't old-fashioned. A boy scout is
trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedi-
ent, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. Is it old-
fashioned, new-fashioned, or just plain inept of me that I
have never attracted a boy scout or considered one as a possi-
I was brought up on Little Women, and I have as much
desire to become the right kind of person as the next one.
In an article in the Ladies Home Journal, I found a defini-
tive list of the qualifications for a good wife, or what they
call her basic personality factors. The list is too long to give
all of here, but among other things, she is agreeable, re-
sponsible, thrifty, conservative, well-integrated, free from
tension, foresighted, discreet, alert, basically religious, op-
timistic, and confident.
She is not a crusader or a reformer. She chooses friends
who are honest, conservative, and who conform to accepted
standards of behavior.
She dislikes carelessness in dress and habitual tardiness.
164 How to Avoid Emotional Maturity
She likes people older than herself, which will help her
to be a good daughter-in-law.
She believes in doing right for its own sake. She seems to
know exactly what it is: the Journal says she has always
tried to do right and has no worries.
As far as sex is concerned (this entry is under the head-
ing "Realism" ) , she accepts her role as her husband's partner.
After I had read the article, the good wife haunted me. I
felt I had known her somewhere, and after some thought it
came back to me. I went to school with her, and we called
her 'Teacher's Pet."
The Journal didn't want to discourage me too much.
They kindly remarked that a poor showing compared with
this ideal shouldn't make me "give up hope of a happy
marriage." But, deficient as I am in these basic qualifica-
tions, I must be thoughtful and deliberate in choosing a
husband. I must work hard all the time to develop com-
Even with a prefrontal lobotomy, I couldn't make it.
I can't, and in school didn't, even classify to be a friend of
the good wife. If I hadn't been trying so hard to keep up
with what the press of America wants me to be, I wouldn't
care. I didn't like her in school, and I don't think I would
now. Anyway, she's older than I am. She sounds older than
From the Journal, and various other sources, one learns
that a good husband must be as many things as a good wife.
He must drink sparingly, get up without prodding, get to
work on time, handle personal spending well, avoid taking
chances, and a great deal more.
Everyone wants to help you if you are wondering
whether someone will make a suitable mate. From a psy-
chologist I heard on the radio I learned that there was no
way of selecting a suitable mate, but that there was a way
of rejecting an unsuitable one. She gave a list of twenty
qualities, some of which he shouldn't have and some of
which he should. Ever since I have been checking everyone
off, and it is amazing how easy it is to rule them all out.
Soon I am going to be entirely without any unsuitable pos-
sible mates, which seems a pity, but it can't be helped.
But I am getting discouraged. It dawns on me that from
this school I will never be able to graduate.
Everyone is getting altogether too demanding and choosy.
The most completely exclusive example I have found of
this attitude is in The Ait oi Loving, by Erich Fromm.
Dr. Fromm says there is almost no love around because
only a person who is totally concentrated and dedicated,
who is always disciplined and never trivial, who treats love
as a fine art and devotes a lifetime to it, has the capacity
to love, or can be said to love. Such people are very rare, but
if one does not love, sex and marriage are dust and ashes and
not a good idea.
This puts us all in a difficult position. Suppose that I
am going along, trying to be mature and aware, and I am
aware enough to know that I am about halfway to dis-
ciplined maturity. Someone stops me, and I feel a whiff of
love, which of course is really that old second-rate "in love."
Am I to say, "No, no, go away. Wait until I am finished,
browned, done to a turn and ready to serve. Until then, you
and I are not real"?
This position is so intrinsically difficult that I think there
is something wrong with it. For one thing, it is snobbish.
166 How to Avoid Emotional Maturity
Only a very superior person can be said to love. None but
the emotionally mature deserve the fair.
I refuse to believe that love is only for the favored few.
I agree with Mr. E. M. Forster, who says it is a republic.
Nor is love to be defined by how well it works: does a clock
lose its name if it strikes thirteen?
Everyone would like to have a whole loaf of the highest
quality, but if he does not acquire one, is it necessary to
say that he has no capacity to taste bread?
The ultimate aim of all these writers is to make me and
everyone else emotionally mature. I have made a bold
decision: I have decided not to be. If I do it their way,
I have to accept the fact that there can be no satisfactions
in life until I have reached emotional maturity. If I don't,
I can imagine that I am enjoying myself as I go along.
I am not against emotional maturity. I think the emo-
tionally mature person is quite all right in its place. It's a
nice quiet place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.
I wouldn't call it living.
So I have done some of what these writers call analytical
research on the subject. I have studied all the descriptions
I can find of the emotionally mature person in order to be
able to avoid it. Here are my findings for anyone else who
may feel the same way:
In general, the emotionally mature person gives every-
one as little trouble as possible. It (as we go along, you will
understand why I have a tendency to call it it) is always
ready to make suggestions, to participate and to cooperate,
but even when it knows it is right, it never tries to impose
its ideas on others.
It has no trouble making decisions, but it never makes
them impetuously or quickly. This somehow guarantees
that it is always pleased with the results.
It is moderate in everything, and so never feels guilty.
Guilt is so emotionally immature that even if you have a
reason for feeling guilty, you are not supposed to.
It always takes a positive attitude toward life, and never,
no matter how much life is jumping around, yelling, and
cursing, allows itself to feel that life is too much for it. It
treats life like a nice, but temporarily naughty, child.
It keeps on an even keel emotionally. It does not become
despondent, and never cries, not even lacrimae rerum. On the
other hand, it does not get joyous or euphoric, because
that would be manic of it, and not emotionally mature.
It always plans for the future. You mustn't call it up and
suggest it do something on the spur of the moment.
It has a sense of humor— but wait. A sense of humor is
not what you think it is. It is the capacity to laugh at one-
self, but not at others.
It does things for others, but never in order to be ap-
preciated. If it feels that it might be wanting to be appre-
ciated, it would have to stop doing things for others.
It believes it will achieve success by cooperation, not
There are no single people who are emotionally mature.
But the emotionally mature person is very slow to fall into
anyone's arms, and very particular about its mate. Once
mated, it promptly accepts its mate as it is, but is under-
standing. It constantly asks itself if it is doing the right
thing and saying the right thing at the right moment, and
it never discusses problems with its husband when he is
tired. If it is a husband, it expresses interest in its wife's
housework. It is essential that both husband and wife be
168 How to Avoid Emotional Maturity
emotionally mature. Everyone is tiptoeing around being so
considerate that, if one of them is not, he or she is likely to
feel like a mental case.
The emotionally mature person knows sex is a good thing,
but difficult, so it is patient about it. If it finds sex isn't
going well, it gets more information, not from a little more
sex, but from a marriage counselor or a book. The Public
Affairs people can recommend it a book called Building
Sex into Your Life, from which it can learn to build it in,
hammer it down, and fasten it with a toggle bolt.
In fact, it always seeks advice from proper authorities.
It never does anything bad, so it has very little experience
to draw on. It has to consult authorities. I think there must
be quite a lot of emotionally mature people around already,
because there certainly are a lot of authorities.
It has a group activity and a hobby. It is not afraid of
anything. It does not need anyone. It can eat everything.
A human being is perverse, passionate, and unexpected,
impulsive, excitable, and full of dreams, hilarious and dolor-
ous, irritating and inspired, dedicated and trivial, and gets
into a lot of trouble. I am going out to get a breath of air,
to strike thirteen, and to see if there are any human beings
On Being a Little Bit Sick
*.Y PRESENT THESIS IS SERIOUS:
nowadays there is something wrong with the way people
are a little bit sick.
Let me recall to you how we grew up. Aside from conta-
gious diseases, we had a bad cold (or a sniffle), bronchitis,
the grippe, or a stomach upset. If we had a temperature,
we went to bed. We stayed there, drinking orange juice and
a lot of water, and taking aspirin, until our temperature had
been normal for a day. Then we got up and went back to
school, feeling wobbly and interesting. Each of these things
took a certain length of time. I always had a cold for five
days, bronchitis for about ten, the grippe for a week, and a
stomach upset for three or four days. A stomach upset was
caused by something I ate, not by something that was going
Ah, the serene, secure, peaceful world of our childhood!
I remember dear Granny, who always used to prune the
maple trees, stoke the furnace, play the Rhapsody in Blue,
and fill the croup kettle herself, because no one else could
ever do it right, laying her hand on my forehead and saying,
"Feverish." In a trice, I would be in bed, cutting out paper
dolls and having meals on a tray. I remember that unmis-
takable, deliciously excruciating soreness in the throat,
which was not tonsillitis because, unlike the pampered
youngsters of today, I had no tonsils, but which meant, in
any case, that everyone was going to have to pay attention
to me for a while. Oh, the homely words, "You ought to be
in bed." Ah, the ecstatic pleasure, just as the lilacs began
to bud in the spring, of gagging on a tablespoonful of dark-
brown, thick, gluey Keppler's Malt and Iron Iodide. And
one of my happiest and most nostalgic memories is myself
at the age of twelve, propped up in bed on two pillows, sick
as a pig, devouring Ghosts by Ibsen, and trying to figure out
what everyone in the play was being so dire about.
Nowadays I'd know. I'd know the symptoms. I'd manage
to have several of them.
What do we have now? Viruses. Viruses can be anything
from a sore throat to a headache to strange aches in places
you didn't have them with the grippe. Viruses can give you
a temperature of 103° one day and nothing the next, during
which you do not feel very bad, or they can give you just
99° for a month on end, during which you feel fierce.
The medical profession is no help whatever. As everyone
knows, they have lost the bedside manner of the old family
doctor. In fact, there's almost no bedside. Today's doctors
hate to leave their nice machines. They don't suggest your
going to bed because they don't want you to get in the habit
of enjoying being sick there. So everyone stays up when
they're sick and children wander around in their pajamas.
"A little virus," the doctor tosses off casually, or "low-
grade infection." "Low-grade infection" is not reassuring.
It sounds lurking and insidious, as if it would eat away at
me and soften me up for something worse, and as a matter
of fact it will.
If the doctor is somewhat modern, he gives you a wonder
drug, after saying airily, "You can take antivirounoduotre-
172 On Being a Little Bit Sick
thrycin, can't you?" You think so, but, as you leave the
office, you begin to wonder. What, you ask yourself, are
its fearful aftereffects? What is that curious numbness in
the left side of the big toe? Will the toe drop off?
If the doctor is very modern, he doesn't give you any-
thing at all. He says, "Take aspirin every four hours. This
has to run its course." Nothing about how long the course
is. It's just a virus and you're supposed to wear it out.
Feeling as one does at this time, one needs security, like,
for instance, having the grippe. Then one would know what
to do and what to tell people. I have tried and tried to sug-
gest to my doctor that I have the grippe or bronchitis, but,
if I can get him pried loose from "virus," all he will allow
is "respiratory infection."
Even the blissful security of running a temperature is
no more. In the old days, anything over normal was a
temperature: you were sick. Today, what with competition
and overcrowding, you have to run a respectable tempera-
ture before you can get any consideration. "Not really a
temperature," they say to 99.6°. Many a time, calling on
the last reserves of my dwindling strength, I have worked
and worked to get my temperature up to 100°, so I could
have crust enough to telephone the doctor.
Hence one of the most agonizing dilemmas of modern
life, which I am tentatively calling the departure syndrome.
You have a scratchy throat, a temperature of 99.4°
(almost 6), you feel woozy in the head, and you want to lie
down on the sofa in the middle of doing something.
This is the moment when either you are about to go
away for a particularly pleasant weekend which cannot be
duplicated for a year, or you are summoned to the funeral
of a very dear friend or relative.
Of course, you can go. If you had to go and cover the
finding of the Snark for Liie, or attend your daughter's
wedding, or even get married yourself, you could do it.
The hell of this situation is that you don't have to. li you
I advise you to lie. Say you have 100.6°. You don't feel
well enough to go anyway.
But the trouble with you and me and most of us is that
you are a sterling character. You don't lie. You bore your-
self and your friends with the following labyrinthine mono-
logue: 99.4° isn't really a temperature. I've often traipsed
around the city with a cold and been none the worse. Am I
coddling myself? Will everyone think I am a hypochon-
driac? I do have that peculiar ache in the upper part of my
left hip. Is it in my head? Maybe I should take my temper-
ature again. Maybe if I went, it would distract my mind, and
I would feel better. And so on.
I can also tell you what will happen. If you go, you will
not only feel terrible, but you will have to continue the
above conversation with everyone, in hopes that someone
will tell you to go to bed. If you don't go, your temperature
will immediately go down to 98.4 1/2°. You will feel much
worse, because you will know you are a slob, and you will
not feel better until you have forced your temperature up
This is no way to live.
The difficulty is that I and I suspect, you, don't really
believe viruses exist. I never had them when I was a child.
Why should I be having them now? Nobody's told me to
go to bed. Obviously I can't really be sick. Is this in my
head? Maybe— (see above)
But I feel awful.
174 On Being a Little Bit Sick
I feel just awful enough to be a prey to every possible
suggestion as to what might be wrong with me. The doctor
hasn't told me anything positive (like the grippe), so I
turn (1 ) to the media of public information and (2) to my
friends. When one is sick, what else does one have to occupy
The media of public information tell me about things
like blood-iron weakness, the very mention of which makes
me conscious of a slow subterranean seeping out of my ar-
teries of vital iron. I'm not sure where it's seeping. Through
the bottoms of my feet? They tell me about the seven dan-
ger signals of cancer, at least five of which I have regularly.
On one occasion, when I wasn't feeling well at all, I was
frightened to death by the report of President Eisenhower's
health examination. "There is a good pulse in each foot,"
it said. I went all over my feet carefully inch by inch, and
I didn't have any pulse in either of them. What did it
Friends are worse because their information is more eso-
teric and definite. "Can you manage without the aspirin?"
asks one, tenderly concerned for my welfare. "It destroys
the vitamin C in your body." This is the same friend who
tells me it's bad for me to have an eggnog, which is all I
have strength to concoct. The reason is— let me try to get
it straight— that there is something in egg white called
avidin, which, uncooked, does something to something in
me called biotin, and the result is dry peeling skin, extreme
fatigue, muscular pain, nausea and distress around the
heart, and mental depression verging on panic. Now how do
This friend is nowhere near so invidious as the one who
knows that it is in my head. This one pauses pregnantly
after my heart-rending description of my symptoms, and
then, ostensibly offhand, actually avid, asks, "Why do you
suppose you got sick right now?" Here the trap door drops
out from under me and my tenuous virus.
There are a lot of people around nowadays who have
read a little book, or seen a little psychiatrist. They have
learned that no one ever catches anything. She does it to
herself, for repressed, nefarious reasons, which she had bet-
ter get right out into the broad light of day. And here is old
So-and-So just itching to help her elaborate the seamiest
possible interpretation of her activity immediately prior to
You cannot get out of it by saying you are run-down.
Why are you run-down? You were tired. Why were you
tired? You had been overdoing. Why did you feel it neces-
sary to overdo? What were you running away from? What
were you trying to conceal from yourself?
With only a little practice, a normally imaginative per-^
son can concoct a rich explanation immediately. Just before
hitting 99.6°, I had a date with X. X drums his fingers on
the table in a way that reminds me of how my mother
played the piano. When I was seven, my mother spanked
me for breaking the springs in the chaise longue. Note the
relationship between my jumping on the springs, X drum-
ming on the table, and my mother tickling the ivories
(Tickling? Hmmm, how did that get in here and why?).
Note: springs— strings— syringe (Stop it!). I really wanted
to break the strings in my mother's piano, because she
sprayed my nose when I had a cold. (Why did I have
a cold? Hold— cold?— everything. One at a time!) The
strings of a violin are made of catgut, and, as it happened,
I played the violin. Though I am misinformed (I just looked
176 On Being a Little Bit Sick
it up), catgut to me means vocal cords. Hence (are you
with me? ) I was masking a desire to cut my mother's throat.
(It's funny, but I can distinctly remember not masking
Anyway, I am guilty about it. One is always guilty. This
is why I have a sore throat now.
You can see how easy this is. Try doing it when you do
not feel well. Will it bring up your repressed aggressions
and clear your nasal passages? No, it will make you feel
worse. Because you have just thought of one or two even
murkier things which you do not choose to tell old So-and-
So right now. Already your busy little mind is working on
them. Keep it up and you will discover that not only are
you working hard, but you deserve, to get cancer, a heart
attack, a brain tumor, etc. Once you realize this, trying to
stop thinking about it is like being told not to put beans up
I Please don't think that I am not prepared to take respon-
sibility. It is just that I do not like my responsibility to act
like the picture of the baking-powder can on the picture of
of the baking-powder can, and so on.
Besides, to be polite, I have to listen to old So-and-So's
symptoms, and I do not feel up to it.
The only people who can do anything about the present
situation are the doctors. It will be clear to them by now
that I don't know anything at all. They had better stop
thinking I do. On the other hand, there is no use in their
being secretive. I have a library card and can scare my-
self good and proper if I want to.
In exchange for sharing this valuable bit of information
with them, I am prepared to tell them something I do know,
which they don't. There are two types of people who are a
little bit sick, and only two. The first group is those who
know they have cancer, heart disease, or a brain tumor,
and are very, very brave about it all. The second is those
who have a stomach upset and know that they are about to
I don't wish to be specifically invidious, so I will simply
say that many women fall into the first category and many
men into the second. The first group is quieter, more
easily discouraged, and gets well slowly. These people need
a number of friends (preferably without bias) to recite
their symptoms to, because they will not be reassured by
one friend. People in the second group are noisier, cannot
be fobbed off as easily, and recover quickly. They need one
person giving them her full attention with hot-water
bottles, ice water and tender loving care, which they will
snarl at because she cannot imagine how awful they feel,
until they suddenly recover, and forget the whole thing.
An eminent authority has divided us all into aggressive
and regressive types, depending on what ailments we get
under stress, so I will be authoritative too, and call these
two groups the compulsive and the repulsive.
Both compulsives and the people who look after repul-
sives need the doctors to provide something more formal-
ized. If the medical profession has permanently given up
the grippe, and other pleasant ailments, the least they can
do is provide a mystique or ritual for the present chaotic
situation. This should start with at least five minutes of
sympathizing with the patient for feeling so bad. A defi-
nite prescription should follow. It doesn't have to be like the
old one, but it must be definite. Something like: Stay in
bed for three days. Get up every hour on the hour and drink
one glass of water. After draining it, recite "Invictus" by
178 On Being a Little Bit Sick
W. E. Henley, taking a deep breath and exhaling hard
after each line. Under no circumstances, eat any smoked
oysters. On the fourth day, you will feel better. This will
give everyone something to do and will take his or her mind
off how he or she feels.
As it happens, I am susceptible to low-grade virus in-
fections, and I am on my way to a severe case of subacute,
subclinical, symptomatic, infinitesimal microcosm. My
friends tell me it can be permanently disabling. I am too sick
to go on wearing out viruses for the doctors. If they don't
think up something for me to do soon, they will lose me.
Do you know where I will be? I will be in bed, with
aches in my bones and a fever, drinking orange juice, read-
ing The Week-end Book of Ghost Stories (I have gone
downhill, too), and taking it very easy. I will be having
the comfortable, reassuring, debilitating grippe, and I shall
not get up for seven whole days.
How I Lost One-and-a-Half
Pounds in Six Weeks
► UT A SHORT TIME AGO I HAD THAT
squeezed, bloated feeling that life was passing me by. I
weighed a hundred and twenty-seven pounds. Life couldn't
help seeing me— I was that solid. But it didn't have to
stick around, and it sure wasn't. I mean, life was the one
thing that wasn't sticking to my ribs. How could it when so
much was sticking there already!
Each time no one said to me, "My, you're thin!" I felt
rejected. Sometimes no one said anything at all. I would
go home and eat some more barbecued pine nuts. Do you
know how many calories there are in one barbecued pine
nut? A plenty. Barbecued pine nuts were my only real
pleasure. How could I bear to live without them?
The editors of the Females' Lovely-Home Friend have
asked me to write my dieting experiences to show the other
kids that it can be done. This makes me awfully happy be-
cause it was the Friend that made me realize that I just
must lose weight. I had to be blasted out of my bad habits.
I had to stop fooling myself that I looked womanly, ful-
filled, and lush, when I really looked as if I had been brought
up on corn-meal mush. Which I was.
I guess I had to read the Friend to realize what a fright
I was, and how much I hated myself for having put off all
180 How I Lost One-and-a-Half Pounds
those years getting down to business, coming up to scratch,
pulling up my socks, buttoning up my lip, biting the bul-
let, and shaking the lead out of my shoes. How the scales
plummeted when I got rid of that lead!
The Friend spurred me on as no one else could have by
never letting the subject alone, one way or t'other. Every
month they showed me wonderful colored pictures of the
most yummy-looking things to eat, such as a cheese,
whipped cream, and gravy pie, topped with grated almonds,
and sizzling with chicken fat. Of course I had to concoct it,
and of course I tasted as I went along (those seasonings are
tricky), and of course I promptly put on five pounds. Then
I would turn the sticky page, and find "Once I was Five-
Ton Fatima," the story of someone who had just lost eighty
pounds on a diet of ground pollen and powdered lichen,
stirred together with a little high-protein curd. Never once
did the Friend stop confronting me with the two horns of
My experiences are sort of different from those of most
of the people who have written for the Friend. All of them
had a horrid time, because people called them names like
Fatso, Tubby, Chubby, Blubber, or Mrs. Five-by-Five. It's
funny, but nobody ever said to me, "Where do you buy
your tents?" or "Look out, you'll break the sidewalk."
Mostly it was I who said things. We'd be walking along, and
pass an enormous woman, and I'd say, "Am I as fat as
that?" and my friend would say "Hmmm," and I'd say,
"What do you mean?" and my friend would say, "This is
boring." But I knew, though I wouldn't admit it.
As soon as the other people who write to the Friend lose
fifty pounds, they are buddies with the people who've made
nasty remarks. They report that it's fun to be included in
their activities. I don't understand why they ever speak to
them again, but I guess this shows that once you get rid of
that excess poundage, you are a totally new personality.
There's another mysterious thing. A lot of the dieters
report that when they were at their fattest, miserably un-
attractive, hating themselves, and not having fun, along
came a sweet considerate person, with a few personal prob-
lems of his own, who married them. Then they dieted.
The editors of the Friend always want to know if some-
thing special started you dieting. Now don't laugh, but with
me it was a picture in a magazine, which certainly proves
the power of advertising. The picture showed the thinnest
girl you've ever seen, standing in a forest, balancing herself
with one arm around a tree truck, and with the other flung
up in the air in a summons. All she had on was a bra and
girdle. I don't remember what they looked like, though I
know I was supposed to, but that picture galvanized me. I
said to myself, "That's what I want to look like." I, too,
wanted to be so thin I could stand in a damp forest with
practically nothing on and have the confidence to summon
Somehow I knew it was now or never, that I'd said
"I'm going to diet" for the millionth time for the last time.
I pinned that picture right up by the refrigerator, so I'd
see it every time I was tempted. And was I tempted!— to take
the picture down.
Because after it had been there for a while, all I could
think of when I looked at it was, "Why don't you put on
some stockings? Your garters are dangling."
I spent the first week talking back to the picture and at
the end of it I weighed a hundred and twenty-seven pounds.
I had to take more drastic measures.
182 How I Lost One-and-a-HaJf Pounds
I knew, because I had read the Friend carefully, that it
was awfully important to keep a chart of my weight to
check my progress. Everyone says that with every few
pounds you lose, your popularity increases. I wanted to
be sure of exactly what I had lost, so I wouldn't mistake
any signs of increasing popularity for something else, like,
for instance, lust.
My scales are old-fashioned. You stand on a little plat-
form above a large dial. I've kept them because, unlike the
new ones, the dial can be read without your glasses on. My
glasses weigh an eighth of a pound.
I knew I had to face up to the weight of the evidence!
I stood on those scales before breakfast with no clothes
on, which is as thin as you can be. I weighed a hundred and
twenty-seven. After breakfast, I began to wonder. Had I
eaten too much breakfast? I went and weighed myself again,
now, of course, with my clothes on. Horrors, I weighed a
hundred and thirty and a half. Could my clothes and break-
fast weigh three and a half pounds? I took my clothes off and
weighed them. They weighed two and three-quarter pounds.
I weighed myself again. I was a hundred and twenty-eight.
I was so dismayed that I gasped. In so doing, I held my
breath, pulled in my stomach, and tipped back on my heels.
I weighed a hundred and twenty-six and a half.
This is how I achieved my first blessed weight loss, and
what an encouragement it was to continue! I continued
weighing myself five or six times a day.
That was the second week.
It isn't how much you weigh, but how it is distributed.
Your hips are supposed to be a little larger than your bust,
and your waist ten inches smaller. Measurements are very
important: if you ignore them, you will not have a before
for your after.
When you take your measurements you must BE
HONEST. This means, don't pull the tape measure tight.
It's terribly hard not to. Your natural tendency is to line
the tape measure up, preferably on a round number. Movie
stars' measurements are always in round numbers. Nobody
who is glamorous is in eighths and sixteenths.
Alas, I was 35 1/8, 26 7/16, and 36 7/8. I had to
chop off those nasty fractions. And I had to watch it closely
so I wouldn't go over the edge into another fraction.
If you use a cloth tape measure, under no circumstances
wash it. It will shrink and increase your measurements by
as much as half an inch. The metal kind is more reliable,
except that it is difficult to get curved around you, and,
when you do, cold.
I spent most of the third week measuring myself, be-
cause each time it came out a little different. If I did it
honestly, with the tape measure loose, it fell off. If I wasn't
honest, I was dubious. At the end of the week, I remembered
my scales. I weighed a hundred and twenty-seven.
Exercise, says the Fiiend 7 will streamline your figure for
this spring's fashion favorite. Exercise does not take off
weight, but it reduces your measurements. It shifts some-
thing, though I can't understand where to.
I was determined not to finish up my diet flabby. Every
morning I got up at 6:45 in order to get in some exercising
before I was awake.
I'd wake up just in time to find that something had
happened to the room. When I'm on my feet, it's plenty
big enough. I trip around and never bump into furniture.
The moment I "lie on back, arms outstretched at shoulder
184 How I Lost One-and-a-Haif Pounds
level, legs together, toes pointed/' I cover the whole room.
When I "bend knees over chest, drop both knees to floor to
right, and stretch legs out without bending knees," I am en-
tangled in the rungs of a chair.
At the end of the fourth week, my waist measurement
had decreased by one-sixteenth of an inch, perhaps from
the exercise of hopping back into bed. I weighed a hundred
There was no help. It had to be calories. Calories also
only come in round numbers, by tens. Nothing is seventeen
and a half calories.
You need your tape measure for calories, because of
things like plums. Two plums, each two and a half inches
long, are fifty calories. My plums each measured two inches
long. The extra half inch represented one-fifth of a plum, so
I was about to eat forty calories. While measuring I got
hungry and inadvertently ate a third plum without measur-
ing it. That threw off that day.
The Friend is very helpful about calories and pub-
lishes lots of low-calorie meals on which people have taken
off pounds. You have a different meal every day, and you
only buy a half a cup of spinach and six tablespoons of
cottage cheese at a time. There are never any leftovers.
I didn't think the Friend would want me to throw away
good food, so I had to eat up my leftovers first. This meant
figuring out exactly how many calories were in them. All
the things in calories in the Friend's meals are plain things
of a definite size and shape. No meat loaf. Too complicated.
To determine how many calories there were in my left-
over meat loaf, I had to start from scratch. One ground-
round patty two and a half inches in diameter is a hundred
calories. I had used a pound, so I bought a new one and
divided it all up into two-and-a-half -inch patties. Then I had
to take into consideration breadcrumbs, onion, green pepper,
a little melted butter, wine. Then it seemed I had made an-
other meat loaf.
At the end of the fifth week, I weighed one hundred and
All this while, I had cut myself off from my friends. I
wanted to surprise them when I emerged, thin, radiant,
a new me. But in the sixth week of my dieting, somebody
called up, and I didn't know how to get out of it, and then
there was a group of people, and we had some drinks, and
they would go to dinner in a place with spaghetti. I was in
despair. All my good resolutions were going to be ruined.
But I remembered the Friend always said it was soli-
tary gorging— those four pieces of bread with mayonnaise
(the things some people eat!)— that put on the pounds,
because it comforts you for being lonely. And after I had
had a few more drinks, I felt pretty popular, and there
didn't seem to be any desperate need to change.
The Friend was right! I don't remember much about
going to bed, but when I struggled onto the scales the next
morning I weighed a hundred and twenty-five and a half.
Now I have hopes of a bright new future. If I conscien-
tiously have one party like that every week, I can lose one
and a half pounds a week. In four weeks, I will be down to
a hundred and twenty-one pounds. If I have two such
parties a week— but I'm not sure I can take it. A modest,
routine program is what I'm after.
In no time at all I am going to begin to have the rich
life the Friend promises. If I can do it, you can. I will be
popular. I will feel terrific. I will date regularly.
Just as soon as I get through with these parties.
186 How I Lost One-and-a-Half Pounds
Quit It, Ompremitywise
JSL. FEEL TOLERANT ABOUT ADVERTISING
but there is one device of the advertisers that I would like
to call their attention to. I think it may get them into
I am calling this device Omitted Premise Superiority,
and, since I am a real American, advertised at regularly,
in the flow, the swim, and the drink of our national life,
and not an outsider or an egghead (unless you lay the egg
flat— my hat size is 23), I am going to be like the advertis-
ing copy writers and hereinafter (a word I have always
wanted to use) call this device Ompremity.
Here is an example of Ompremity: Gallo wine; picture
of lush grapes. "These grapes are only squeezed once."
What, I want to know, is wrong with squeezing grapes
twice, or three times, or as many times as it takes to get
every bit of juice out of them? There may be a perfectly
good reason, such as that if you go on squeezing, you get
crushed seeds in your wine. But I want to be told. I don't
automatically know why squeezing grapes once is superior.
"The only mustard made with two kinds of specially-
grown mustard seed." Why are two kinds of mustard seed
better than one? You could sell me just as badly if you
said, "The only mustard made with only one specially-
grown mustard seed."
"The only cereal with two whole grains." Do all the other
cereals have one whole and one half grain? If the bulk
were the same, mightn't half grains be easier to chew and
not stick in the teeth as much? I'm not questioning the
veracity of the statement. I simply want that omitted prem-
Ompremity, as you see, is often associated with the word
"only." It is also often associated with a made-up word, as
in "the only tooth paste that contains gardol." Gardol and
irium and such don't irritate me quite as much, because by
their very vagueness they give my inquiring mind some-
thing to work on. I can picture to myself some extraordinary
substance, a great technical advance, developed in our
clean, modern laboratories by a new process, which could
certainly do whatever they say it does. My only quarrel
with these words is that they aren't alluring. I am told not
to buy a chicken unless it is acronized. Does this make my
mouth water? Am I yummyized? I'm not, because acro-
nized does not sound like what I would want done to a
chicken. It sounds like what I would want done to a hot-
Pillsbury tells me that if I use their Hot Roll Mix, I will
have the "excitement of working with living dough." What
is living dough, and do I want it? Is all dough but Pills-
bury's dead? Who's that there in Pillsbury's dough, trying
to get out?
If you are not alert, ompremity can trick you into belief.
There is a deodorant which is better because it rolls on.
At first reading, this seemed to me obvious: of course a deo-
dorant that rolls on is better than one that— well, what?
Scrunches in? But mightn't scrunching in be more thor-
188 Quit It, Ompiemitywise
"Roto-roasting" is the "secret that brings out all the
golden goodness of the peanuts" used in Big Top peanut
butter. (By the way, why is goodness always golden? What
about bisque goodness, as in lobster bisque, or chartreuse
goodness, as in chartreuse?) Roto comes from the Latin,
rota, a wheel. Because of having a dictionary, I can get a
little further with this ompremity than with most, but I
can't get very far. The implication is that these peanuts are
roasted on all sides. How do you suppose they do this? Do
they spit each peanut with a fine sewing neddle?
The point is that if they don't watch it, the advertisers
will be hoist with their own ompremity. I am thinking of
the face powder which is proofed against moisture dis-
coloration because it is triple-creamed. I am, as I mentioned
above, a regular American, and I have been advertised at
to the point where I take it for granted that I am entitled
to the very best. Why should I be satisfied with face powder
that is only triple-creamed? I want face powder that is at
least quintuple-creamed, and now that I think of the very
delicate skin I have, I think I should have face powder that is
In this country one person is just as special as the next
one, except that I am more so. I have just written the only
article that contains ompremity.
How to Be Happy Though Fired
HEN I FIRST BEGAN TO JOB
hunt I always hoped I wouldn't get the job. I had to nag
and bribe myself into office buildings: Go on in, you cow-
ard, I would say, go in, you slob, and when you get out
you can have coffee and something fattening at the drug-
Because whenever I faced a prospective employer the
prospect was utterly implausible. Had I been born, lived
through chicken pox, measles, adolescence and a B.A. de-
gree to spend the rest of my life in the office of the Better
Bundling Blanket Company, shut up with this stranger
and concentrating on his or her weird little preoccupations?
I would be there forever— or a year, which amounted to
the same thing. Could this type across the desk give cre-
dence to such a fantastic notion?
This was not conceit. I knew I couldn't do most of the
things they expected of me. It made me feel sincerely hum-
ble, in fact abysmal. And the last thing they wanted was
me. They wanted something else, which, I gathered from
reading magazines, was neat and alert in a linen-look, color-
secured, Askron-and-Wonderlon, Stretch erized, Testerized,
crease-resistant, water-repellent, novelty-weave suit, which
wore a light floral cologne and colorless nail polish and
washed its hair, its girdle and its powder puff at least once
a week. It had written a job-hunting letter saying it wasn't
interested in money but in learning about the Better Bun-
dling Blanket Company and how to promote its interests.
But they might have to take me for some good reason such
as that they weren't offering enough money to get the some-
thing else, and if they did, I knew they would gobble me up,
snap their jaws shut, and I'd be lost forever.
Psychic states communicate themselves. It was not a bit
surprising that without fail I didn't get the job. I helped.
When they said, "Do you think you would be able to—?"
I said, "No."
Out I would come, knowing I had failed again, happy as
a clam in my relentless unemployability.
I might have made a life of never getting jobs if job
hunting hadn't been so uncomfortable. It rained. My feet
were tired. I had no place to go. People asked me and
asked me if I had a job yet. I got broke.
There came a moment when my guard was down. Before
I knew it, just like everybody else, I had a job.
The first week is both unbearable and unreal. You don't
know what anybody is talking about, or where anything is,
or who the people are who call on the telephone who get
mad if you don't, and your desk chair snags your stockings,
and nobody is ever going to have lunch with you, and there
you are, the lowest rung in the Better Bundling Blanket
Company, and you are nothing.
Time passes. A certain ease creeps over you. You have a
definite place to go when you get up in the morning. You
begin to get mildly interested in that special high-ply wool
they use in Better Bundling blankets. You're nothing, but
so is everyone else.
This might be called Phase Two. Phase Two can last for
192 How to Be Happy Though Fired
years, and many people pass an entire life in it. Employers
should do their very best to keep them there, even to getting
them new desk chairs.
But sometimes, after a variable lapse of time, you switch
to Phase Three. You begin to sense that your original in-
stinct, like most original instincts, was right. Before you
got into the Better Bundling Blanket Company you were
Jane Doe, nothing special, but yourself. Now you are some-
thing else: Miss Doe in the New York Branch, or Miss Doe,
J. B.'s secretary, or— the end— Our Miss D. In spite of
social security, collective bargaining, and the suggestion
box; in spite of clean washrooms, the office Christmas party,
and the Billing Department Girls' Bowling Team— your
employer owns your soul.
Don't argue. Of course he does. For instance, when does
your day start? Not at 7:00, when the alarm rings, but at
5:00 P.M., when you leave the office. It's a very short day,
which stops around 10:30, when, in the most uproarious
gathering, something begins signaling to you and you real-
ize it is the B.B.B. Co. needing your sleep. There are
Saturdays and Sundays? Saturday you wash all those things
you're supposed to wash if you're a nice, clean girl— I mean
career woman. Sunday is a day of rest, and besides you have
all that ironing to do. So they give you a two-week vacation?
Anyone who has ever had a two-week vacation knows it is
very cleverly timed: it takes at least one week to stop
being Our Miss D., and another to get ready to be her
again. There's barely time to sandwich a set of tennis in
And you really are Our Miss D. You think if you don't
get those invoices typed by 4:31; if you don't make that
phone call today; if you can't get Our Mr. R. on the after-
noon plane to Kansas City— something frightful will hap-
pen to the Better Bundling Blanket Company. The B.B.B.
Co. is the world and you hold it together. You have to
believe this. Otherwise you might surprise yourself won-
dering who cares whether his blanket is a Better Bundling.
Time and the seasons are passing, and what is the pas-
sage of seasons in an office? Spring is Miss Jones, your
colleague, just before Easter in a hat incrusted with flowers.
Summer is Miss Jones deciding to stop wearing stockings
and wondering if she'll bother with leg paint this year. Win-
ter is Miss Jones on the first chill day coming in smelling
of moth balls. It's like Plato's cave: life is a shadow on a
wall of something going on outside.
In order to develop, a soul needs some privacy in which
it can try itself on to see how it looks. An office is the
least private place in the world. They know everything.
Finding out your age and your salary is elementary— they
get those facts the first week, since they're the most impor-
tant ones. They know what you are giving your grandmother
for Christmas, and that you broke your diet and had a choc-
olate fudge sundae for lunch, that you are fighting with
your family, and what you said to the promotion depart-
ment about what you think of the accounting department.
They know all your symptoms of whatever you think you're
coming down with— and you know theirs. If you come in
wearing dark glasses and a breakable air, they ask if you
have a hangover. But they don't need to ask— they know.
You can't conceal going to a psychiatrist, even if you go at
eight in the morning or six at night, because sometime you'll
drop an unguarded "interpersonal relationship" and they'll
guess. If you give a party and invite one person from the
office, the next day all the others know you didn't invite
194 How to Be Happy Though Fired
them. If you think the new man in the advertising depart-
ment is mildly attractive, they know, and don't think they
won't tell him you think he's utterly divine. Then they'll
tell you they told him. So before you know whether he's
worth a dither, you're in one whenever you see him. This
is hysterical love and is to real love as hysterical paralysis
is to real paralysis, i.e., all the pain without any of the
credit. If the office keeps at you, you may find yourself the
mother of the advertising man's three children before you
have a chance to realize that this wasn't what you had in
It's unnatural to spend as much time with anyone not
related to you as you do with fellow office workers. In one
way, they become like relations. Though their interest in
your life is avid, you can't surprise them. You hold no
mystery for them. If you try to get attention, their reaction
is, There's that old shoe flapping its tongue again.
In Phase Three you don't realize all these things imme-
diately and consciously. Its first symptom is a violent loss of
interest. For months you've been following the piddling
progress of the love life of that other old shoe, Miss Jones.
Suddenly you wish she'd stop talking. However juicy, no
further detail can enthrall you. You might throw some-
If you can restrain yourself at this point, you'll be safe—
in your job. When the sun comes out, or you get over your
cold, or Miss Jones starts confiding in someone else, Phase
Two will reassert itself, briefly. But from now on you'll
zigzag. At the most unexpected moments Phase Three will
rear its ugly head. Your fellow workers will feel you re-
straining yourself from one end of the office to the other.
They will begin to tiptoe. This is the time when you may
overhear someone referring to you as "the old fiend."
But if, when you get into Phase Three, you don't re-
strain yourself; if you throw something or, worse, tell some-
one something you've been polishing mentally for a month
or two— eventually, which is what I am getting to, they
will take you out for a couple of regretful Martinis and tell
you that they're cutting down your department.
Here— though you won't think so after you've gone home
and gloomily had two more Martinis— is the most beauti-
ful moment of your life. Time, which has been racing along
in skinny five-and-a-half-hour days, relaxes gloriously into
huge, rounded, twenty-four-hour ones. Habits, so fixed
that you wondered if you were prematurely old or just get-
ting like your Aunt Susie, become irrelevant and imma-
terial. Life, losing its focus on Better Bundling blankets,
becomes directionless: this means it has a million directions.
You don't have to get up. Half the people in the world
love to get up in the morning, and they all work in offices,
and this is as it should be. The other half finds getting up
so intense a torture that someone should stand by and give
them a gold medal every time they make it. I am told this
has something to do with one's fluctuations of temperature,
so there is a medical reason for it, but the first half thinks
the second half is making it up and being difficult. If you
are in the second half, and I suspect you are or you wouldn't
have been fired, you will experience great bliss. There's
one moment of death, when you think you're late to the
Better Bundling Blanket Company. Then transfiguration,
when you know that you can extend the process of getting
up over such a long time that it will be barely perceptible.
You can lie there and remember your dreams, and who
196 How to Be Happy Though Fired
knows what might come of that? Sometimes you can even
go back into them and rearrange them to suit yourself.
You can call your soul your own. For a while you'll call
and it won't come: it's mad at you for burying it under
Our Miss Doe. But when it sneaks out for a moment or
two, don't pounce on it and tell it to go right out and find
another job. Let it wander around and see what things are
like. It may have entirely different ideas from yours. It
doesn't think it's sinful to lie on the sofa and read detective
stories all day. It may decide it could write one of its own,
entitled Over the Office Manager's Dead Body. Or it may
start to make an intricate stew that must be stirred every
ten minutes. Sometime, when you are walking along the
street at three o'clock in the afternoon, your soul will start
saying, Oh, joy. Oh, life. Oh, infinite possibilities. This is
silly, but why be a spoilsport? Your soul doesn't know what
it's doing, but it might find out. It might find out something
you lost sight of when you went to work for the Better
Bundling Blanket Company: In spite of all the evidence
to the contrary, life can change. Even you can change.
You may be able to do some of those things Our Miss D.
thought were impossible.
People in offices will do everything they can to make you
feel that you are living in sin. They telephone at 9:15 a.m.
and ask with superior solicitude if they woke you up—
they've been up for hours and they'd forgotten you didn't
have to be. They wonder if you aren't getting out of the
swim. They remark kindly that it's all right for a while,
but don't let it become a habit— people can become un-
employable. If they come to dinner and eat your stew, they
will say that it is delicious, but only someone who has all
the time in the world could bother with such a thing, and
they must tell you the clever trick they've discovered with
frozen cheese blintzes. If you visit them in their offices
(this is a mistake), they become desperately indispensable:
they type memos, telephone, summon messenger boys, ask
your pardon for just a moment while they do something
rather important, and they only relax when they suggest
that with your experience you might be able to get a job
at the Woolly Bear Blanket Company, where they know
the personnel manager, though it probably wouldn't pay
quite as much right away as your old job did.
Let them run on. They have to do something to bolster
up their pathetic officebound egos. And you can walk
grandly out of there and into the sun, stroll down the street
looking in shop windows, watch the seals in the zoo being
fed and wonder what it would feel like to be a seal, take a
bus ride to a strange part of town, and finally have a nice
cup of tea and something fattening in a tearoom.
What does this remind you of? If I were you I wouldn't
think about it. You're not going to make the same mistake
again, are you? Or are you?
198 How to Be Happy Though Fired
Picking Your Mate with a Menu
■ KfflKES AND DISLIKES OF FOOD HAVE
always been considered inexplicable, pleasantly uncharted
oddities and a part of personality. But, as it must to all oddi-
ties, comes (alas) an explanation. According to Dr. William
Kaufman, a doctor in Bridgeport, Connecticut, one's likes
and dislikes are based on the emotional values of food. Dr.
Kaufman has established some interesting categories, which
I like because they offer a new way of getting the jump on
The first category is security foods— milk and milk prod-
ucts. We increase our intake of these in times of emotional
stress. Mother is involved here.
There are reward foods— chocolate, hot dogs, candy, or
nuts. We eat more of these "if we are thwarted, or if we
have failed to gain the approval of others, or if we feel
sorry for ourselves."
Fetish foods include things like highly advertised ce-
reals, which we eat more of "if we need extra strength to
compete successfully with others. Some children don't feel
strong unless they have Wheaties, Breakfast of Champions;
some adults believe they can't sleep without first taking
Ovaltine. Many laborers feel that if deprived of daily serv-
ings of red meat and potatoes, they would become too weak
Grown-up foods include coffee, tea, or beer, and are fa-
vored by people who "have the unconscious need to empha-
size their adulthood."
There are pleasurable-association foods: "When we are
sad or lonely, we may have special need to recapture sym-
bolically some treasured moments of past happiness." Dr.
Kaufman gives as an example "baked beans, which remind
us of our beloved Aunt Clarissa."
Show-off foods are another category. People who, says
Dr. Kaufman, "are impelled to attract the attention of
others . . . may eat odd things such as live goldfish . . .
or fried grasshoppers. . . . Others more modest in their
aspirations may prefer to establish local reputations by
gorging themselves publicly on watermelon, clams, pump-
kin pie, or hamburgers. The less imaginative . . . merely
splash generous amounts of ketchup, mustard, or black pep-
per over everything they eat."
Prestige foods include "caviar, truffles, expensive but
smelly cheeses, and dry champagne of a certain vintage
There are also foods to which people have "unfavorable
emotional reactions," for example, those with built-in con-
flicts, which were "the original 'parent-fight-child' foods,
such as spinach and carrots." Then there are foods that
produce "unfavorable emotional reactions," including, not
surprisingly, "spoiled foods, off-color foods, off-taste foods."
This may seem complicated at first. For instance, as long
as it is cheap and doesn't smell, cheese is a security food.
Smelly and expensive— prestige. Red meat is a fetish food,
yet hamburgers are show-off, which seems to indicate it is
the hamburger bun which is intrinsically exhibitionist. The
truffles are also confusing. I have always understood that
200 Picking Your Mate with a Menu
the true truffle lovers were truffle hounds or hogs. Possibly
they want prestige, too.
But the complications are worth facing up to and even
delving into because they present such enthralling pos-
sibilities. Having a meal in a restaurant with someone else
has heretofore been a social occasion in which guarded or
unguarded confidences might or might not be exchanged.
Now, willy-nilly, masks will drop. This is going to be most
helpful when you are lunching or dining with a strange
young man, a circumstance, owing to obsession with one's
own mask, in which it is harder than usual to assess charac-
ter. It is also a situation on which a good deal of advice has
been given over the ages, but nobody except Dr. Kaufman
has advised noting what the other person orders. Spying
like this may seem underhand if you are not a doctor, but
in this age of security-consciousness, it is a good idea to
collect every crumb of information you can.
Well, here are a few indications of how to go about it.
Suppose your date orders Welsh rabbit, containing cheese
and beer. Presumably the cheese was relatively cheap and
not smelly, so it is a security food. The beer is grown-up.
This means he wants to emphasize that he is an adult, but
the whole thing upsets him. Pretend you think he is an
He gaily commandeers some American champagne. He
wants to show off, but doesn't have the courage of his con-
victions. An essentially cautious type (maybe even stingy),
so be careful yourself.
He has a chocolate fudge sundae with salted almonds.
This indicates a serious personality problem. Note that he
has rewarded himself twice. He is feeling doubly sorry for
202 Picking Your Mate with a Menu
himself, because of his insecurity. Maybe you should stop
He puts ketchup on his baked beans. He wants to recap-
ture that wonderful moment when he showed off, and Aunt
Clarissa was sympathetic. This is encouraging— you have
made an impression.
He has pot cheese with sour cream. You will be sur-
prised, but this is a Don Juan. Note that he chooses a double
security food. As you doubtless know, Don Juans are very
insecure people who have a constant need to prove them-
selves. Watch out.
He has a little Roquefort cheese. He has been under
emotional stress so long that it's beginning to spoil. This
person doesn't get any fun out of telling how awful every-
thing is, but tells it anyway so you won't get any fun out of
it, either. I would advise steering clear.
But if he orders New England clam chowder, he is show-
ing off about his troubles. He is, consequently, more extro-
verted, and you may go happily down the years together
hand in hand with his emotional stress.
He has red meat cooked with wine. Either he has a fetish
about being a snob, or is a snob about fetishes. New England
boiled dinner was good enough for his grandmother. Fun to
play with, but won't get serious.
He orders a big bowl of a highly advertised dry cereal
with milk or cream. He has a fetish about being under stress.
Of course, there is a possibility that he wants to send for a
set of five scale-model plastic Fords, or an atomic beanie.
Consider whether he might not be too young for you.
He has coffee ice cream. He is very split, trying to be an
adult and heading back to the womb at the same time. This
type may also be too young for you.
Creamed spinach. He is fighting with his mother. Take
his side, cautiously.
Chocolate cake with whipped cream. He is feeling sorry
for himself because he wants to beat up his mother. This
does not look good.
Cieme ienversee. He wants to turn his mother upside
Creme biulee. Very bad. Run.
That will do for a starter. In any case, you have only a
day or two in which to put this into effect, because as soon
as everyone knows about it, people will start choosing foods
in reverse, and the real snobs will take care to order glasses
of milk. And they'll begin watching you.
204 Picking Your Mate with a Menu
How to Mend a Broken Heart
HIS IS A COUNTRY WHERE EVERYTHING IS
housed except the heart. Its geography is the same as that of
the county now lost, but distorted as if by a mirage. Persist-
ently the heart pays its ghostly visits to familiar landmarks,
and finds them strange: they have assumed extra and un-
bearable significances. Jammed to the bleachers, the Yankee
Stadium may be a graveyard. The gold curtain of the Met-
ropolitan Opera House falls, not on the end of the opera,
but on hope. The lions in front of the Public Library have
ceased to be arrogant: they are about to roar with woe.
Time in this country is extraordinarily long. Much of it
is passed in silently directing across the frontier an endless
letter of protest and explanation, rage and tenderness. The
letter is most eloquent late at night, and sometimes spoken
out loud. It cannot rest with something said once, but
marks its ocean of hours with recurrent and identical tides.
The other people in this country are unreal and yet
troubling. Laughter in the street is a stab; a couple holding
hands a mortal wound. Happy, people are a reproach or an
affront. Miserable, they don't know the half of it. Unkind,
they confirm your conviction that you are not worth the
world's consideration for a moment. Kind, they demon-
strate the heart-rending discrepancy which exists between
kindness and love.
The only person who could give comfort is the one who
caused the desolation. What is there to do but lie on the
sofa and cry? No other pursuit could dignify the catas-
trophe. Except death.
Inexplicably and annoyingly, one doesn't die.
Those most interested in this article— the broken-hearted
—are about to protest that they very well may. Who, they
are thinking, is this superficial wordmonger, who believes
feelings like mine can be transitory? Nothing so bad has
ever happened before. I will never get over it.
This is a most old-fashioned state of mind. "Broken-
hearted" sounds dated. "Unrequited" seems to belong to
a period of steel engravings of weeping willows, prefer-
ably growing aslant brooks. "Crossed in love" has the fla-
vor of an even earlier time: it suggests consolingly that
stars, gods, some powerful agency outside oneself, have had
a hand in the situation.
We have pushed morality further than did people of pre-
vious generations, even stuffy ones. Today, one must feel
responsible for what happens. Having a broken heart is
culpable: you have probably done something wrong. "It is
normal to overidealize a beloved person," says Dr. Smiley
Blanton in Love or Perish, "and so make more valuable
the object of our heart's desire." But people who over-
idealize make excessive demands which "inevitably reach
a point where they must be met with refusal." "Dont" he
says in his own italics, u give your Jove to those who cannot
return it!" To do so "perpetuates infantile patterns of self-
delusion and unfits us for effective dealing with our fellow
"Perpetuating infantile patterns of self-delusion" is dis-
tinctly more modern than being broken-hearted. If your
206 How to Mend a Broken Heart
heart has been breached, contemporary advisers will not
rush in with comfort and remedies. "Why," they are more
likely to ask, "did you do it in the first place?" To find the
answer may lead one into a complete and professional over-
haul of the personality.
Writers of earlier ages, who never heard of such therapy,
assumed that heartbreak happened, that the cure might be
long and difficult, but that certain courses of action could be
helpful. If one does not have the money for a complete over-
haul, they are worth consulting. They knew exactly how
you feel: if you insist belligerently on being out-of-date,
you will find them more satisfactory than the twentieth-
Stendhal describes falling in love as "crystallization,"
because of the phenomenon he observed in the Salzburg
salt mines: if you throw a bare branch into a pit and fish
it out two or three months later, you find the branches
covered with crystals. The smallest twig is a mass of spark-
ling diamonds, and the original is no longer recognizable.
In love, crystallization is "the work of the spirit which draws
from everything that confronts it the discovery that the
loved object has new perfections." This is better. It may
be infantile, but it sounds charming.
How does one decrystallize? Stendhal, in De Y amour,
Robert Burton, in The Anatomy oi Melancholy, and Ovid,
in Remedia Amoris, give the broken-hearted advice on all
the concerns of the waking day and many of those of the
night, and their advice is practical. Occasionally it re-
quires a little translation, but not much. If one must suffer,
to suffer with Ovid (three wives and at least one Corinna)
establishes something that has seemed doubtful: one is still
a part of the human race.
"Labour, slender and sparing diet, with continual busi-
ness/' says Burton, "are the best and most ordinary means
to prevent [love-melancholy] ." For many, this will ring a
bell, those who have a strong natural overhaul instinct of
their own, those, that is, who are listmakers. Listmakers
yearn toward ascetism: they live, mentally fingering reso-
lutions, as if every day were New Year's.
If you are a listmaker and broken-hearted, you will
translate Burton for yourself and begin a new list, the one
which goes something like this: "Get up at quarter of eight
sharp. Only three cigarettes before lunch. No hard liquor
before six or after dinner. Lose ten pounds by August 21.
Do not telephone X. Make new friends. Read twenty pages
of War and Peace every day. No salted peanuts." You
write this in a beautifully formed hand, and sit back to
contemplate the clean positiveness of your personality on
paper. How controlled, how superior you are to all the ir-
Unfortunately, listmakers are by definition listbreakers.
Knowing this, they are ashamed of being listmakers and
conceal it like a secret vice. But the company is distin-
guished. Consider this list, and what happened to it.
For the 15th. From 5 to 8, writing; from 8 to 9, music and tea;
from 9 to 11, gymnastics; from 11 to 1, reduce to a certain order
my affairs before my departure, but without hurrying. From 1 to
10, luncheon, writing, reading and a walk.
Apiil 15th. Rose late— at 8 o'clock. Sloth and indecision. Did
gymnastics well, played the piano with haste, read similarly, dined
with my aunt and disputed with her. Lack oi Beite. After dinner,
spent evening in prowling about and experiencing voluptuous
208 How to Mend a Broken Heart
Listmakers like italics. This one is Tolstoi in 1851.
The danger of making lists while broken-hearted is the
danger of doing anything you have done before while
broken-hearted— intensification. If you don't stick to your
list, you will feel even more worthless, and you feel quite
But if you feel you cannot stick to the list, do not give
yourself up. "If they be much dejected and brought low in
body, and now ready to despair through anguish, grief, and
too sensible a feeling of their misery, a cup of wine and full
diet is not amiss." In other words, "Stay me with flagons,
comfort me with apples; for I am sick of love." Or in still
other words, if each day is a tissue of dreary tasks extend-
ing into the limp and dangling fringe of a lonely evening,
go ahead and have a dry Martini or two, and a delicious
dish of noodles and cheese, representing seven hundred cal-
But the seven hundred calories remain a problem. It is
a mystery to me why the unrequited lovers of literature and
the past were pale, wan, and thin, while nowadays emo-
tional troubles lead to overeating. Either something has
changed radically or pining away is a literary convention.
From reading Burton, I suspect that the latter is possible.
The slender and sparing diet he recommends consists of
"Cowcumbers, Melons, Water-Lilies, Rue, Woodbine,
Ammi, Lettis," a salad unquestionably low in calories. I think
he knew someone with a broken heart, who was out in the
larder gorging on suckling pig and saddle of mutton.
What can one do? The only answer I can think of is to
solace oneself with something very small that will take
time to make— one cracker with a little grated cheese on it
and half a rolled anchovy in the middle toasted very slowly
under the broiler, and topped with a sprinkle of rue.
For the unrequited, strong drink may be nectar, balm,
and the only thing to look forward to. Ovid's unexpected
advice is not to drink, but if you must, to get plastered:
"Either let there be no drunkenness, or to so great an ex-
tent to remove your anxieties; if there is any medium be-
tween the two it is injurious." There is something to be
said for this: a blow-up can have the effect of shifting the
gears and a hangover may be so absorbing that you forget
your troubles. Perhaps Ovid is thinking of the hangover
when he says: 'That you may recover, you will have to
endure much that is to be lamented."
There are people who are never excessive, who never need
to make lists. There are such people, though I have trouble
formulating them in my mind. In general, they are satisfied
with themselves: listmakers wish to change and be better.
But the satisfied, too, are subject to the broken heart. While
they may not have the problem of wondering what they
did wrong, they face the basic one: the boundless loneliness
which is like the dark around a fire out of doors. For a while
it can be pushed back, but it always looms.
Everything is related to the person who has forced one
into this loneliness. The only way to make it bearable seems
to be to hope for a return: to watch for the mail, listen for
the telephone, and live continually in the expectation of
the encounter. You know better and so does Ovid: "Let not
that portico which is wont to receive her as she walks re-
ceive you as well," he says, which means, do not be walk-
ing down Madison Avenue past his office at five minutes
With all such desires to return to the past, he is severe.
210 How to Mend a Broken Heart
"Nor yet, though you should desire to know, should you
ask how she is doing." 'Take care not to read over again
the letters that you have kept. . . . Put the whole of them
into the devouring flames." "Remove her waxen portrait as
And finally, go away. "Neither do you count the hours,
nor oft look back on Rome: but fly." And stay away at
least a year, adds Burton, some sixteen hundred years later.
Here there is an interesting divergence between the au-
thorities. Though the prescription for travel is time-hon-
ored, Stendhal does not agree. Stendhal enjoyed being a
tender soul, and what he called trembling. His love-melan-
choly was stubborn; he half enjoyed it, and half doubted it
could be cured. The lonely journey, he says, is not a remedy:
nothing recalls more tenderly what one loves than contrasts.
Therefore if one goes away, one must go with a friend, the
curing friend (1'ami gueiisseui) y who, says Stendhal subtly,
should talk incessantly about the unfortunate love affair to
the point where it bores the bereaved to distraction.
Traveling is expensive nowadays, and so is another time-
honored prescription: meet new people ("Fly not from
conversation, nor let your door be closed"). Meeting new
people means parties. To be invited to parties one must
give them, and it would be nice to have a new dress for the
occasion. All the old ones hang limply at half-mast in
mourning for past occasions. Perhaps such diversions were
cheaper in the old days. Now it comes down to money.
If you have it, you may stop reading me (but take Stendhal,
Burton, or Ovid with you) and go out and buy a new ward-
robe and a steamship ticket.
But you haven't. Assuming a broken heart, reading is
almost the only thing I can think of that costs nothing. It is
certainly much better than prowling about and experienc-
ing voluptuous desires. The ancients have considered this
also. "Meddle not with the amorous poets/' says Ovid, and
he goes on to emphasize the importance of this by advising
the unrequited not to read Ovid. "Even my own lines have
tones indescribably sweet." Joyous love poetry will make
you grieve, and the sad will express that grief. Most of the
good love poems, with a few exceptions, are by men. If you
are a woman, reading them will make you feel not only
unrequited, but unchronicled. Where possible avoid Ro-
mantic poets, cultivate Classical ones. Byron is an exception
in the first case; Catullus in the second.
Humorous verse is preferable, and bad verse (in small
doses) is almost as good, since it makes unrequited love
ridiculous. For example, from Totters Miscellany (1557):
Farewell, thou frozen heart and ears of
Thou lackest years to understand the grief
that I did feel.
Do not, says Ovid, "indulge yourself with the Theatres,
until Love has entirely departed from your liberated breast.
The harps, and the pipes, and the lyres, soften the feelings;
the voices, too. . ." This seems to preclude the opera and
is probably wise unless the opera is carefully chosen. La
Boheme and Madame Butteifiy are out; Tosca. is doubt-
ful; Cosi (an tutte is better. Though the Marriage oi Figaro
is ideal in many ways, the Contessa is a hazard: "Porgi
amor," which ends with the classic "At least let me die,"
and "Dove sono i bei momenti," will make you cry.
Indulging nostalgically in popular songs is, of course,
nothing but indulgence.
212 How to Mend a Broken Heart
The third and fourth of the arts, painting and sculpture,
are, because of their present depersonalization, by far the
safest. Somewhere in the galleries you may run into an
abstraction called "Broken Heart," but it is unlikely to
These are distractions: what advice does the past offer
about the attitude of mind which will be most efficacious?
The past, with wisdom, is chary about any, knowing that
in this condition it is impossible to assume an attitude
through an effort of the will. The broken-hearted feels
there has been an exposure and isolation of his personality.
A strange instinct tells him that the exposure is both true
and false. Such ambivalent states of mind are endlessly
instructive, but they make taking an attitude almost im-
In so far as the exposure seems false, rage is possible. Here
the curing friend is again recommended, to point out all the
things to which you have been blind: "Odd relationship
with his mother," "Awful to his first wife," "Why do you
suppose he butters his bread like that?" and so on. "Let
all these points ferment through your entire feelings; re-
peat them over and over; hence seek the first germs of your
hate." "Tell him but how he was scoffed at behind his
back," says Burton, and gives a magnificent and terrifying
list of the things the rejecter has supposedly said about the
rejected one. If this does not work, he advises "good coun-
sel": that "in sober sadness, marriage is a bondage, a
thraldom, a yoke, an hindrance to all good enterprises, a
stop to all preferments."
Then both writers, perhaps momentarily afflicted with
the half-sweet longing familiar to tender souls, contradict
themselves. "Marriage," says Burton, "is the last and best
refuge and cure of Heroical love." "Tis a crime/' says
Ovid, "to hate the fair one so lately loved; such a termi-
nation as that is befitting a brutal disposition." So what
does one do? Can one detach one's love from the object,
make it more general, more pervasive, and so keep it? This
would be the ideal solution, but no one says whether and
how it is possible.
For a tender soul, that half-sweet longing is the climate
in which another affection might blossom. Love, like nature,
abhors a vacuum. The final advice is that the best way to
get over a broken heart is to risk starting the whole thing
over again by falling in love with someone else.
You are caught. You must remain old-fashioned. "Every
passion is conquered by a fresh successor." Who has ever
had a broken heart about the next to last person?
214 How to Mend a Bwken Heart
Yawp for Today
ODAY I AM NOT MAD AT ANYONE. THE
vernal equinox has arrived. The sun is out. My window
is open, and through it wafts grinding, chugging, blasting,
and riveting from the corner, where they are building an
In what other country would something you pay a great
deal of money first to own and then to maintain be called—
In spite of what I have said elsewhere, I love gadgets. I
love American ingenuity. It is not ingenious alone, but ex-
travagant and precise. American ingenuity can be as ba-
roque as a bibelot, and as functional as a fly swatter.
Today I have no wish to carp. Today I shall harp. Gadgets
I sing. I have just realized who I am today— Walt Whitman.
I too can sound a barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
Today a rude brief recitative.
Come Muse, migrate from Greece and Ionia, because
in what other country would they suggest that the suitable
memorial gift to your church or your alma mater is a set of
Schulmerich Carillonic Bells? How endlessly rocking these
bells, enduring in beauty, practical in price, efficient in in-
stallation, simple in maintenance, and, of course, tax-deduc-
Have the elder races halted? Do they droop and end their
lesson, wearied over there beyond the seas? They do, be-
cause in Europe the flints you buy for your lighter come in
a little paper envelope, and here we have Zip-a-flint by
Zippo. Here are flints in a row in a little plastic tube, and
here at the end is a small red wheel with a mouth. How
precisely the mouth gobbles exactly one flint. How modestly
it presents it to you! You who celebrate bygones, who have
explored the outward, the surfaces of the races, the life that
has exhibited itself, you historians and archaeologists, what
an impossible task in future times will you have trying to
figure out what Zip-aflint by Zippo was for. O something
ecstatic and undemonstrable!
There are some days when Univac scares me, but not to-
day. Today I think I could live with Univac— it is so placid
and self-contained. It does not lie awake in the dark and
weep for its sins. It does not make me sick discussing its
duty to God. It just sits there and grinds out a concordance
to the Bible.
In the labor of engines and trades, I find the develop-
ments. I find the zippered doily file of see-through plastic,
the pleatmaster kit, and the decorative switch plates. I find
the noiseless patient dripless candle, after long years and
trying developed. And I find that someone feeling deprived
of drips has invented the Cascade Candle, which drips on
purpose. It launches forth filament, filament, filament, out
of itself, ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them
all down its solid and colorful sides.
Mark the spirit of invention everywhere, thy rapid pat-
ents. The responsibility of gadgets! How calm they are,
how kind and how thoughtful. My roll of waxed paper is
vigilant. As it comes toward its end, it worries. It tells me in
neatly punched letters: 'Time to reorder Cut-Rite." Yet it
216 Yawp for Today
knows I am fallible, human, forgetful, and it is indulgent.
It says it again and again until I reorder.
Buying a box of vitamins, I found there a paper, a gift
and remembrancer designedly dropt. I have never met you,
friend, but I feel that I know you. You wish me well, and I
you, and you send me this ensign of duty. The small piece of
paper tells me: 'Tacked by Clock No. 398."
We pass through Kanada, the Northeast, the vast valley
of the Mississippi, and the Southern states, and everywhere
we find the same toaster, identical, shiny, and modular,
which pops up two pieces of toast. And through all these
regions, it cannot toast corn or bran muffins. O the engi-
neer's joys— they invent new muffins, and these you can
toast. These are toaster-tailored.
What unknown hero defined the erasers, assigned them
their tasks, and displayed them that now we may have
We do not blame thee elder World, nor really separate
ourselves from thee, but have you ever conceived of a stove
with a built-in meat thermometer, which you stick in the
roast and, when it is done, the thermometer plays a tune,
and the tune is "Tenderly." The muse is here, install'd
amid the kitchenware!
Hurrah for positive science! Long live exact demonstra-
tion! O, tumble-dried! O, packaged plumbing! O, pil-
ferproof closure! Melange mine own, for I too am job-
mated. I am toaster-tailored. I am integral with you, I too
am of one phase and of all phases. I am America, and today
I dote on myself, there is that lot of me, and all so luscious.
How Did This Happen)
note: When I wrote about Lady Mondegreen in what a cor-
respondent tells me was always Papa's magazine, I did not realize
how many people knew as much about Lady Mondegreen as I
did. Reading their letters, I saw that Lady Mondegreen's death
was only the beginning. I am not one to tell you not to put beans
up your nose, so I will not suggest that you will not understand
The Quest oi Lady Mondegreen unless you have read The Death
of Lady Mondegreen on page 105 first.
Some people wrote to correct me, but as before, this is a ques-
tion of who is to be master. If there is a word, it is the word, but
if there is more than one mondegreen, it is Lady Mondegreen.
Harold's name is Harold, not Hallowell or Halibut, both of which
are of too narrowly New England a character. The argument for
Halibut was that the early Christians identified themselves by
the sign of the fish. Harold does not belong solely to the early
Some people felt I had done Harold a disservice by so identi-
fying him. It comes down to attributes. If he has none whatso-
ever, he cannot be permitted to walk in the garden in the cool
of the day, which seems unkind. If he has attributes, may I not
name a few? They are not exclusive: I will name them on Choose-
days, and leave everyone else the rest of the week.
All the readers who made contributions to these further or
before-the adventures must forgive me if I do not thank them
personally and mention their names. I have taken it for granted
that they gave me their mondegreens with nose rings attached.
Thus they will be able to identify their own.
The Quest of Lady Mondegreen
^L^NCE UPON THE TIME BEFORE THINGS
got going Lady Mondegreen and Good Mrs. Murphy lived
together in Tizzathee.
Tizzathee was a splendid country. Above Tizzathee were
not one, as elsewhere, but (Oh, beautiful!) four spacious
skies. The sunsets and sunrises in 4-D were extraordinary.
The people in Tizzathee enjoyed themselves. After the
day's work, they sat around in the evening and heard the
latest songs on the Hip Hooray. It is true that some of
them worked themselves up by listening to the End-of-the-
World Series. But even these went to bed serene, because
they knew they would be guarded by Babe Ruth through
Lady Mondegreen climbed the rocks, slid down the sand
rills, and wandered in the woods. She had not thought of
any questions to ask.
Good Mrs. Murphy had long ago answered all the ques-
tions to her satisfaction, and she was busy in the kitchen
and other places.
Tizzathee is the land of liver tea, which is full of itemends,
is good for you, and has a strong taste of nothing. Tizzathee
is also one nation and a vegetable, which has a weak taste
of nothing. Twice a day, when Lady Mondegreen sat down
to lunch and dinner, a vegetable appeared, fortified, homo-
genized, defrosted, and neatly prepared by Good Mrs.
Murphy. Lady Mondegreen did not like it, but Good Mrs.
Murphy had brought her up properly and she knew she
had to eat it. So she prayed to Harold to help her. Twice a
day, she said, "Incline our hearts to eat this slaw."
One day, something in Tizzathee was different. The four
skies may have been a little more spacious, the Hip Hooray
a little more specious, or a vegetable a little more tasteless.
Whatever it was, for the first time Lady Mondegreen won-
dered. She found it a little painful, but absorbing.
Toward evening, she knew what she was wondering about
and went into the kitchen to consult Good Mrs. Murphy,
who was brewing a pot of liver tea on the back of the old
Good Mrs. Murphy looked suspiciously at her over her
shoulder. "You look peaked," she said. "Have you been
eating something you shouldn't?"
This confirmed Lady Mondegreen's wondering. "You
never told me before that there was anything I shouldn't
eat," she said.
"I can't do everything in this house," said Good Mrs.
Murphy. "And I wouldn't be one to advise you not to put
beans up your nose." She had been saving this one up. It
was a drastic distraction, but she saw that something drastic
It didn't work. "Where is fancy bread?" asked Lady
Good Mrs. Murphy sat down heavily in the kitchen
rocker. "Who told you about fancy bread?" she asked.
"Have you been talking to any snakes?"
222 The Quest of Lady Mondegreen
"It came to me," said Lady Mondegreen, "and I want
some. I'm sick of a vegetable."
"It's a bad, bad thing/' said Good Mrs. Murphy, shaking
her head. "You'll be getting nightmares and notions and
going off exploring. You're better off without it."
"How can I be once I've thought of it?" said Lady Monde-
"If you must, you must," said Good Mrs. Murphy
gloomily. "But you'll live to wish you'd listened to kind old
Good Mrs. Murphy. Oh, you'll enjoy yourself for a while
no doubt, but there will come a moment when you'll say to
yourself, Why didn't I pay more mind to wise old Good
Mrs. Murphy? There'll come a time—"
By now, Lady Mondegreen knew she would get what
she wanted, so she kissed Good Mrs. Murphy and went out
into the yard to think about how fancy bread would taste.
That evening, with many sighs, Good Mrs. Murphy
placed before her for dessert a delicious small brown loaf,
topped with white frosting. Lady Mondegreen beamed at it,
cut a slice, and ate it.
No thunder or anything else dramatic clapped. The
fancy bread tasted better than Lady Mondegreen had
imagined. That seemed to be all. Lady Mondegreen sat back
in her chair.
"I am a mondegreen," she said, discovering.
"Why yes, my dear," said Good Mrs. Murphy, relieved.
"Aren't we all?"
"There are other mondegreens?" asked Lady Monde-
green. "I feel like the first one."
"I knew you'd get ideas in your head," said Good Mrs.
Murphy. "You're no different from the next one. And if I
had my way I'd keep the next one out of here."
But Lady Mondegreen had already gone to answer the
knock at the back door.
Three of them were standing outside, all about the same
size. The first was a plump boy, the second an alert-looking
camel, and the third a cinnamon-colored bear with shoe-
button eyes sewn on crooked. She motioned them to come
into the kitchen.
'These are my friends," she said to Good Mrs. Murphy.
"It's not enough to have to beat up fancy bread at a
moment's notice," said Good Mrs. Murphy. "Now I have
to pick up after camels and bears and boys. And don't just
stand there. Sit down properly at the table and say your
names. Only one piece of fancy bread apiece, mind you."
"Round John Virgin," said the boy, bowing.
"O Camel, the Faithful," said the camel, eyeing the fancy
"Gladly," said the bear.
"Tell your name nicely," said Good Mrs. Murphy, firmly.
"Gladly," he said apologetically, "the cross-eyed bear."
They all sat down around the table and began to eat
fancy bread. Lady Mondegreen looked at them purpose-
"We have to get up early tomorrow," she said, "to make
a good start."
"Where are we going?" asked Round John Virgin.
"To find the Earl Amurray," she said.
"Earls is it now?" said Good Mrs. Murphy. "I knew no
good would come of this."
"I will come," said O Camel, "since I am for company.
Company is for comment. Must we look for an earl? I
would rather look for more fancy bread."
"Don't come looking here," said Good Mrs. Murphy.
224 The Quest of Lady Mondegreen
"Once in a way for a treat, but not as a steady diet. A nice
cup of liver tea is what you'll get for breakfast."
"Mondegreens don't like liver tea/' said Lady Monde-
green, "and have earls to find."
"Now she has no more use for poor old Good Mrs.
Murphy/' said poor old Good Mrs. Murphy. "Now she has
her fine friends and her fine ideas. All for nothing have I
done for her all these years."
"You make the best fancy bread in the whole world,"
said Lady Mondegreen.
"It's the recipe my mother brought from the old country,"
said Good Mrs. Murphy. "You won't find its like here."
"I will go, too," said Round John Virgin. "Since I am
for finding out about things. What is a knoll country? What
is a mondegreen?"
"The questions the child asks," said Good Mrs. Murphy.
"Only the Good Harold could answer them."
They all looked at Gladly.
"What are you for?" asked Round John Virgin.
"I don't know," said Gladly, ducking his head with
embarrassment. "I don't see myself well. Could I be for
"Don't fuss the bear," said Good Mrs. Murphy. "Why
should he know what he's for? Take things as they come, I
always say. And no more talk. If you want to be fresh in
the morning, to bed with you."
They awoke the next morning to a nellaparting day,
which looks as if it were about to be over when it has just
begun. But, invigorated by their steaming liver tea, they
decided to start anyway. They said good-by to Good Mrs.
Murphy, who gave them a great deal of advice and rubbers.,
and they set out.
They took the usual road out of Tizzathee, which is
always wet ahead of you but dries as you get there. They
crossed the fruited plain, climbed over the four purple
mountains, and arrived in another country. Here there was
a crossroads with four roads leading out of it. A signpost
directed as follows:
TO THE SANDS OF D
TO THE BARREN WASTE
TO THE SOFT DANCER
FROM SEA TO CHINA SEA
They stopped to consider the sign.
"Secrets/ 7 said Lady Mondegreen.
"Then there's nothing to do but count out," said O
Lady Mondegreen closed her eyes, and they turned her
around several times. She said a counting-out rhyme which
had just occurred to her:
Barren sands, waste sea,
Soft to China,
Dance to D,
One, two, three,
When she opened her eyes, she was pointing to to the
sands OF D.
"Exactly the one I wanted/' said Gladly.
They started down the road which lead to the Sands of
D, which went and turned and went and twisted until they
came to the edge of a wide sandy beach. Blue water shim-
mered far away on the other side.
"I almost know what we do here," said Lady Monde-
226 The Quest of Lady Mondegreen
"Quiet for cogitation/' said O Camel. She thought.
"Here we call the cattalome," she said finally.
"Of course/' said O Camel, "It was tipping my tongue."
They lined up in a row and called until in the distance
they saw the cattalome coming slowly across the sand.
The cattalome was a large, shapeless, sand-colored beast,
with a flipperlike fin on each side with which it propelled it-
self. This was both awkward and slow, so it encouraged it-
self by saying over and over in a deep, rasping voice, "Get
along, cattalome, get along, cattalome." The cattalome's
mother liked railroad trains.
When it arrived in front of them, it looked up inquiringly
from under a thick fold of flesh that served it as eyebrows,
and said, "Yes."
"How do you get along?" said Lady Mondegreen. This
is how you greet a cattalome.
"Fin, thank you," said the cattalome politely. "And you?"
"I am looking for the Earl Amurray," said Lady Monde-
green. "Do you know where he is?"
"You're not to ask me questions," said the cattalome.
"Why not?" asked Round John Virgin.
"Because one question leads to another," it said crossly.
"I am to be called and that is all. Not on or for. Called.
Everyone has to call occasionally, and I could be useful to
them because I don't commit them to anything. But they
all have to ask questions. They can't let well enough reason
for being alone."
"Is there only one reason for being alone?" asked Round
"I am a cattalome," it said. "If I did anything but be
called, I'd stop being it." Its jowly face became lugubrious.
"I would be something else. That scares me."
"Are you a mondegreen?" asked Round John Virgin.
"Now stop it," said the cattalome, "but since you asked,
certainly not. A mondegreen is a stray. A cattalome may
occasionally be distrait, never astray. A cattalome stands
"—alone," finished O Camel, and he snorted to himself.
The cattalome wrinkled its eyebrow alarmingly.
"Thank you very much," said Lady Mondegreen. "I think
we must be going."
"Earls are chancy," said the cattalome. "You won't find
any here. Steer clear of them." It turned slowly around and
flopped cumbersomely off, muttering urgently to itself,
"Paddle home, cattalome, paddle home, cattalome."
They returned to the crossroads.
Lady Mondegreen counted out again. She couldn't re-
member exactly how it had gone the first time, so this
time she said:
Soft sea, barren sea
Dance to three,
And this time she pointed to to the soft dancer.
"I was hoping for that one," said Gladly.
"Let us think it over," said O Camel, sitting down
judiciously at the side of the road. "Could the cattalome be
right? Do we want to find a chancy earl? Nobody asked
me, of course, but I think we should use our heads on this
"He's only chancy until we find him," said Lady Monde-
green. "We re a quarter of the way there already, and we'll
soon be halfway if we don't loaf."
228 The Quest of Lady Mondegreen
"I'm only half loafing/' said O Camel, "and half a loaf is
better than no head. I have to be faithful, but you wouldn't
notice it if I didn't inject a little objection."
"Now that you've objected, can we go?" said Round
"I'll just set back for a moment longer," said O Camel,
"Every quest must have a setback."
They waited until O Camel felt he had set back long
enough, and then set off again.
The second path led immediately into a vast pine forest. It
bent and turned and bent and twisted and they walked
happily along, dry pine needles crunching under their feet,
hoping to see the soft dancer at any moment.
So they were extremely shocked when suddenly there
was a loud explosion, and a terrifying figure leaped out
from the depths of the wood. It was as tall as the tallest
pine, and covered with fire darting out in every direction.
Its face grinned fearfully down at them, and its teeth were
pointed flames. It held a glittering cage with which it lunged
"I have read of Fiery Gasful with his burnished rows of
steel," gasped Lady Mondegreen, "and this must be he."
She turned to run.
"Impossible, preposterous, outrageous," shouted Fiery
Gasful, exploding like a bomb on each explosive. "I won't
have it. I won't stand for it. I hate it."
They all began to run as Fiery Gasful continued to ex-
plode behind them. After they had gone a little distance
there was a sudden silence.
They looked around and saw that Fiery Gasful had
stopped dead, and was flaring at a willowy lady, who was
dancing slowly out of the woods. She had long pale hair
and she wore a pale floating dress.
"Blast, blast, blast," yelled Fiery Gasful, and did. That
is, he blew up and vanished. Everything was quiet and
empty, except that a few ashes floated slowly down, settling
here and there, on the grass, on pine needles, and in the hair
of the willowy lady.
She did not trouble to brush them out, but lay languidly
down on the grass.
Lady Mondegreen approached her. "You're the soft
dancer that turneth away wrath/' she said.
"I suppose so," said the lady, "My name is Mildly
"What an odd name," said Round John Virgin, who had
never thought about his own. "Why are you mildly lazy?"
"Too much of an effort to be violently lazy," she said.
"Are you a mondegreen?" he asked.
"Not if I can help it," said Mildly Lazy Gloraby. "A
mondegreen is a motion, and I make as few motions as
"Have you seen the Earl Amurray?" asked Lady Monde-
"If I had, I wouldn't know him," she said. "I'm indif-
ferent. You all look alike to me."
"What's different?" asked Round John Virgin.
"I don't know," she said. "I'm in it. I can't see it for the
trees." She yawned, turned over, and went to sleep.
"Do you think she has any fancy bread?" asked Gladly
in a whisper.
"If she had, she wouldn't know it," said Round John Vir-
"I would too," said Mildly Lazy Gloraby, opening one
230 The Quest of Lady Mondegreen
eye. "I already ate it." This time she really went to sleep.
"I like it here/' said Gladly. "Let's take a nap, too. She
might have more fancy bread when she wakes up."
"I thought you were for coming along too/' said O Camel.
"I am/' he said. "I'm for coming along too with every-
body. Not for choices. I don't like it when we leave people
"She's not going anywhere, and we are," said Round
"I like them both," said Gladly.
"We could leave you behind," said Round John Virgin.
"We can't do that," said O Camel. "Someone on this
quest has to accept things unconditionally, so that the rest
of us can be on-condition-that. Let's sit down and figure
this out. Every quest should have a rest."
They lay down on the pine needles in a patch of sunlight.
"Lovely," said Gladly.
"Are you enjoying it to the full?" said O Camel.
"Oh, yes," said Gladly.
"Which do you like better," said O Camel, "enjoying
something to the full or to the empty?"
"I don't know," said Gladly.
"If you enjoy something to the empty," said O Camel,
"you get more."
"That's true," said Gladly, uncertainly.
"So you aren't enjoying this to the full," said O Camel.
"So I'm not," said Gladly. "Good. Now we can go."
"These devices are good for jostling," said O Camel to
himself with satisfaction, "so why should they be expected
to hold water?"
They returned to the crossroads.
This time, Lady Mondegreen's counting-out rhyme came
out like this:
Waste sea, shine blue,
Two barrels, wasted two,
And she pointed to to the barren waste.
"In spite of those barrels, which don't belong, this has a
certain inevitability," said O Camel, wearily.
"It seems unlikely the Earl Amurray would be in a waste,"
said Lady Mondegreen."
"Let's wait until he comes out," said Gladly.
"He may be going in the other direction," said Lady
Mondegreen. Off they started again.
This time the road wended and turned and wended and
twisted between high hedges on either side. They were
beginning to wonder when they would come to the barren
waste, when the hedges abruptly stopped and they entered
a small formal garden with a path leading to a stone bench
at the other end. Seated on the bench was a tall thin dis-
tinguished gentleman with thin black hair, a long thin face,
and a long thin nose. He wore a black doublet and hose.
"The Earl Amurray!" said Gladly. "Is it?"
Lady Mondegreen stopped at the beginning of the path
and looked carefully at the thin gentleman.
"No," she said. "I don't know who it is, but it's not the
The gentleman got up and bowed politely.
"The Baron Waste," he said. "At your service. Be seated,"
and he indicated some iron chairs standing around on the
232 The Quest of Lady Mondegreen
They all sat down solemnly.
"How do you do," said Lady Mondegreen. "Have you
seen the Earl Amurray?"
"Not well, not well at all," said the Baron Waste. "My
despair is bad today. You would not believe, you could not
conceive what I suffer."
"I'm sorry," said Lady Mondegreen. "Are you taking
anything for it?"
"Everyone asks that," said the Baron, "as if it were an
ordinary stomach-ache. It's especially special, especially ex-
treme. None of the usual remedies work."
"What about fancy bread?" said O Camel.
"Couldn't be worse," said the Baron. "Aggravates the
acid condition. Fancy bread is only good for children."
"Have you tried liver tea?" asked Lady Mondegreen.
"Good Mrs. Murphy says it is good for everything that
"No, no," said the Baron Waste, wrinkling his nose with
distaste. "The taste is too unspeakable, reekable." He closed
his eyes and pressed his hand to his stomach. "Hollow, hol-
low," he moaned. "Doomed to remain so. Unhappy Ba-
None of the friends could think of anything else to sug-
gest. After a pause, the Baron Waste opened his eyes, sat
up straight on the bench, and smiled resignedly.
"Even in a condition as absorbing as mine," he said,
"one must observe the amenities. One must make the effort.
People expect it, not thinking, not inkling of what's going
on inside. You were asking about Amurray, Madam?"
"I am looking for him," said Lady Mondegreen.
"You'll be disappointed," said the Baron. "Oh, I've no
doubt you'll find him. He's all over the place. But he has
gone off sadly, poor fellow, since we were younger."
Lady Mondegreen thought this over. ''Where has he
gone off sadly to?" she asked.
"Everywhere but here/' said the Baron. "He never comes
to see me any more. I don't blame him. I'm no entertain-
ment, attainment, for someone like him. And I find him
trying— the constant activity, the inevitable gallantry, the
"Is the Earl Amurray a mondegreen?" asked Round
"I doubt it, old chap," said the Baron. "He's relatively
grown up, in his way. A mondegreen is a maze, or a scape-
childish, you know."
"I don't wish to contradict you," said Lady Mondegreen
stiffly, "but the Earl Amurray is a mondegreen."
"If you know him better than I do, Madam," said the
Baron, "there is nothing further to be said. Everyone has
to learn by butter experience. That started my trouble.
Butter does not agree with me."
"I don't believe I do," said Lady Mondegreen. "Butter
was glowing under my chin before I ever tasted it."
"Amurray is a very sick person," said the Baron. "He
doesn't realize it, of course."
"If he is, I will make him well," said Lady Mondegreen.
"I should be the last to wish to shake such supreme,
such extreme confidence," said the Baron with dignity.
"No matter how foolish, no matter how mulish!" he shouted.
"Why do you say things twice?" asked Round John Vir-
"Once for me, and once for you not listening," groaned
234 The Quest of Lady Mondegreen
the Baron. He clutched his stomach fcgain. 'This is bad
for me/' he said pathetically.
"Why don't you come with us?" said Lady Mondegreen.
"A walk might do you good.
"Kind of you," said the Baron, "but youVe aggravated
me once. Even if you tried, I'd be expecting you to do it
again. And I can't do without twice. I need it."
So they said good-by and started back to the crossroads.
As soon as they were out of hearing, Round John Virgin
began to object. "We shouldn't have left so quickly," he
said. "He's the only one so far who knew anything. I could
have found out things to think about."
"I like rumination too," said O Camel, "but I was begin-
ning to feel queasy. Every quest should leave questions un-
Round John Virgin walked along trying things out to
himself: "A mondegreen is a motion escaping. A monde-
green is amazed to stray," until they reached the crossroads.
Even though there was only one road left, Lady Monde-
green insisted on counting out again, because she had an-
other rhyme in her head. It went like this:
China blue, one barrel,
Sea to sea to see Harold,
Dance to no doubt,
The minute she had said it, she opened her eyes in sur-
"It's Harold we're going to see," she said triumphantly.
"Of course. He'll know where the Earl Amurray is."
"Harold is exactly who I want to see," said Gladly.
"I should have guessed when that barrel sneaked in,"
said O Camel, "but it would have been more convenient if
we had known it before."
"It didn't tell me before," said Lady Mondegreen. "Har-
old will give us a delicious tea."
"Liver?" said O Camel, suspiciously.
"Much more likely fancy bread," said Lady Mondegreen.
"To the China Sea," shouted Round John Virgin, and
they started off down the fourth path.
It was lined on either side with ginkgo trees, and was the
shortest path yet, for almost immediately they arrived.
The China Sea was quite round and entirely blue and white.
Along the edge were intricately gabled little Oriental houses,
and on the opposite side and a little to the left was a small
island, with a house partly concealed in bushes.
"There is Harold's house," said Lady Mondegreen. "The
question is, how to get there."
As she spoke, a little boat with a square sail appeared in
the middle of the sea, and began to sail toward them. Ship-
ping its mast it floated under the bridge in front of them
and rode up on the shore where they were standing. Out of
it stepped a Chinese with a long pigtail, who bowed po-
"My name is Lee Jun," he said.
They all bowed and said their names. When he heard
Round John Virgin's, Lee Jun smiled broadly.
"Delighted to meet you," he said, "We must be cousins."
"Are we?" asked Round John Virgin, looking somewhat
"Didn't you say your name was Ver Jun?" said Lee Jun.
"I'm pleased to hear it. We'd lost track of the Ver branch."
"So it is," said Round John Ver Jun. "It's very nice to
meet someone in the family. Are you a mondegreen?"
236 The Quest of Lady Mondegreen
"I believe so," said Lee Jun. "A mondegreen is a go, and
so is my boat."
"We would like to go across to Harold's house," said
Lady Mondegreen. "How is Harold?"
"Full of the old nick," said Lee Jun. "He spent the
morning trampling out the vintage where the grapes and
rats are stored. It made him very angry, and he kept shout-
ing 'Deliver us from weevils/ "
"Four heavens!" said O Camel. (This is a Tizzathee
exclamation.) "We must think this over. Is this the best
moment to see him? What is Harold like?"
"Harold is like everything and nothing," said Lee Jun.
"Both at once and twice on Choosedays. It's better just to
"Very well," said O Camel. "I can think on and by the
"My boat, of course, is slow," said Lee Jun, "and Harold
would like to get there faster. He likes company." He con-
templated the boat, made several mysterious passes in the
air, and said, "Thou whose word cannot be broken formed
thee for his motor boat."
In a flash, the sailboat turned into a blue and white cabin
cruiser with gleaming brass fittings.
Lee Jun motioned them all to climb in. They sat down
on some blue-and-white striped cushions, and he disap-
peared below. There was a silence, then some banging, and
then they heard him say "Drat!" Presently the motor started,
and he appeared again.
"Machinery is new to me," he said as he sat down be-
hind the wheel. "I am afraid it is something to think about."
The boat shot off over the white water. Lee Jun was not
accustomed to so much speed, and turned the wheel fran-
tically this way and that. The result was that they swooped
back and forth, coming dangerously close to blue rocks and
just missing willow trees which dripped into the water. It
was nerve-racking, but they arrived at the small island with-
They stepped ashore at the foot of a path, which led up
to the house. Lee Jun waved good-by, and sailed off, for
his boat immediately became a sailboat again.
When he was gone, they rushed up the path and arrived
pall-mall in front of the house door, which was richly carved
and closed. On the sill sat a large bird, purposefully, as if
on a nest.
"Good afternoon/' said Lady Mondegreen. "May we see
"Let us observe the forms," said the bird. "First you look
at me in surprise. Then you ask, curiously but courte-
ously, 'What kind of bird are you?' "
"I know what you are," said Lady Mondegreen. "You're
a dorkey bird."
The dorkey bird let out a squawk. "You've spoiled every-
thing," it said. "I must have ceremony. Otherwise I have
to ruffle my feathers, and I hate it."
"I beg your pardon," said Lady Mondegreen. "I wanted
to speed things up. You don't have to ruffle your feathers."
"Just as much as you have to speed things up," said the
bird. "It's a question of crowding. If we weren't crowded,
you could be as unceremonious as you wished. But you
need ceremony as much as I do. I could easily get us all
called dorkeys, and then where would you be?"
"Right here," said Lady Mondegreen, who saw that this
worked both ways. "You are."
"Exactly," said the bird. "So let us observe the forms."
"What is a dorkey?" asked Round John Ver Jun.
238 The Quest of Lady Mondegreen
"A dorkey is a frontery," said the bird.
"Why not a backery?" asked Round John Ver Jun.
"I am in front," said the dorkey bird, "and you inter-
rupted me. The point is"— it began to talk in a rich, public
voice— "the golden real. Real unto other as you would have
them real unto you. Often called the golden mean. The
opposite of the golden mean is the undistributed middle,
which is how you are behaving. Distribute and let's get
this over with."
Lady Mondegreen blushed. She had been thinking that
the dorkey bird did not need as much room as she did.
"What would you rather be than?" she said dutifully.
The dorkey bird immediately smoothed down, and its
feathers gleamed with bright colors like stained glass.
"I would rather be a dorkey bird in the house of my God,"
it said with satisfaction, "than dwell in the tents of wicked-
But it had underestimated the crowding.
"What tense is wickedness?" asked Round John Ver
Jun, settling down for a leisurely informative discussion.
"Present inordinate," said the dorkey bird, wearily. "Don't
remind me. I had to ruffle my feathers the whole time be-
cause of the cold. The tents of wickedness are a den of ice. I
am happy in Harold's house, because it has a nice distributed
warmth, smelling of cinnamon-flavored fancy bread."
"Cinnamon-flavored?" said Gladly. "We've never had
"Does Harold make it?" asked O Camel, and he looked
"Only occasionally,' said the bird. "Good Mrs. Murphy
usually makes it."
"How did she get here?" asked Lady Mondegreen in sur-
"She comes in by the day, which is more direct than
your route/' said the bird. "Who do you suppose does the
washing, irons the angels' robes, and all those little chores?
Good Mrs. Murphy is one of those who has entertained
angels' underwears. Now I will let you in."
They all waited eagerly while the dorkey bird opened the
door with its beak.
All but Lady Mondegreen, who hesitated on the steps
and looked back. The China Sea had vanished, and all
around Harold's house stretched a dim meadow, huge and
indistinct, in which a human figure would have been a pin
point. In the distance, the mizz blurred the limits of the
meadow, and out of it, as if from a sea, rose high peaked
mountains speaking of nothing except themselves. Lady
"It is a far world," she said, "and yet someone has walked
on my grave."
"When I open the door," said the dorkey bird, tapping
its claw, "you are to come in"
Lady Mondegreen turned and they all went into the
Inside was a large hall lined with columns. On the op-
posite side, Harold, looking very fit, sat on a gold throne.
At his side stood Harkther, Harold's angel, tall, gaunt, and
with straight yellow hair, in an Anglo-Saxon attitude. A
number of small furry animals were chasing each other
around the legs of the throne, and other angels and dark
angels were coming and going in the hall. Spaced out around
the walls were other thrones, all different. Some were grand;
some simple; and one was a small tufted loveseat.
240 The Quest of Lady Mondegreen
"Company. How nice," said Harold, clapping his hands.
"How do you do?"
They bowed and Harold got up and came down from the
throne, stumbling over one of the small animals, which
promptly rolled up and lay still, playing dead.
"The twelve opossums will get under foot," said Harold.
"But if one lives here, one becomes fond of them."
He shook hands with the four friends. "A pleasure to see
you," he said. "Tea first. Questions later." He waved his
hand and a large round table popped up through the floor in
front of the throne. Chairs jumped into place around it.
Harold clapped his hands and through a door in the back of
the hall shot a familiar figure. It was Good Mrs. Murphy
wearing a large pair of wings. She flew down the hall hold-
ing a laden tray in front of her and hovered over the table,
lifting dishes and plates from the tray onto it.
"Don't forget the raisins, Good Mrs. Murphy," said
"Now, Mr. Harold," said Good Mrs. Murphy, hovering
busily, "You can leave everything to spry old Good Mrs.
Murphy. I hope you've all been behaving yourselves," she
said to the friends. "No time to gossip," and she flew out
Harold sat down and surveyed the table with satisfaction.
"Sit down, sit down," he said. "Pull your chairs in. Get as
near me as you can, e'en though it be across that raisin
The raisins, heaped up on a large platter, were a special
kind, home-dried by Harold from the grapes he had driven
the rats out of. There were many other things as well. Each
of the friends immediately recognized something he knew
he would particularly like.
"With the jellied toast proclaim," said O Camel, as he
helped himself to some.
"Confirm the tidings— jelly roll!" said Gladly, happily.
Round John Ver Jun was stuffing himself on the raisins.
"There are libertine cheeses for all," said Harold, passing
around a plate with several different kinds.
Lady Mondegreen paused. "I thought it was liver tea
and just is," she said.
"A matter of emph," said Harold. "Emph as is or emph
as isn't. Which would you rather have— a communion of
saints or a union of snakes? You may take your choice,
and there's something to be said for both."
"But which is the truth?" asked Round John Ver Jun.
"The truth is notonous," said Harold. "The opposite of
monotonous, which, of course, is the most interesting thing
"Have we had fancy bread?" asked O Camel, looking
around the table, where by now absolutely everything had
"Several kinds," said Harold. "Not all."
"What a tea! What a day!" said Gladly. "Is it Christ-
"Of course," said Harold. "Later on I will give you your
presents. But first we should have some music, because you
must come before his presents with a song. Or have you had
too much to eat?"
"Not at all," said Lady Mondegreen. "We can sing, full
though we be."
They all burst into song, and Harkther accompanied
them skillfully on the A string from on high, which he pulled
down, tucked under his chin, and stroked with a bow.
When the song was finished, they sat back, a little out of
242 The Quest of Lady Mondegreen
"Come from the dining room and blow," said Harold.
"It's good for you after a big meal."
They got up from the table, which promptly vanished,
and Harold lead them to the part of the hall where his throne
was the tufted love seat, and where there were other com-
fortable chairs and couches. They all blew and sat down
"One of my more comfortable thrones," said Harold.
He sat sideways in the love seat and put up his feet. "I'll
start with you," and he pointed to Gladly. "What would
Gladly thought and his eyes crossed even further. "I
would like what everyone else would like," he said.
"You want something that likes you," said Harold. He
snapped his fingers, and at Gladly' s side appeared an-
other bear, also cinnamon-colored, but smaller.
"This is the child she-bear," he said. "She is too young to
talk very much as yet, but she will learn." He pointed his
finger at her. "Try something," he said.
"Gladly," said the child she-bear in a new voice.
"Good," said Harold. "What do you think you would like
"Pity mice implicitly," she said.
"Very good," said Harold. "For next week, memorize
the 'Conquered Hen/ Everyone from Tizzathee should be
able to do so."
"Thank you very much," said Gladly.
"No trouble," said Harold. "You're easy. All accept needs
is to be accepted." He turned to O Camel.
"I would like something that would pay attention to what
I say," said O Camel. "Being faithful is a burden, and I
want some satisfaction out of it."
"Much better to have something whose attention you
can demand/' said Harold. "It feels more important/' He
snapped his fingers again, and beside O Camel stood a
small Arab boy in a burnoose. "This is Little Sedorum/'
Little Sedorum looked around the hall. "I shall pull the
opussums' tails/' he said, and he started off.
"O come, little Sedorum/' said O Camel impatiently.
Little Sedorum promptly came back. O Camel snorted hap-
"Thank you/' he said. "That's extremely satisfactory."
"Now you," said Harold to Round John Ver Jun.
"I want answers," he said. "What is a mondegreen? What
is the opposite of Christmas? Who am I?"
"Your father was Long John Silver," said Harold, "and
your mother— let me think— Rounda Bout was her name.
There has been some confusion about yours, hasn't there?
We'll change it. From now on you will be Round John
Verging. A mondegreen is in layers. That's all I'm going to
tell you because I'm going to give you something to ask you
questions. You'll like that better— there'll be twice as many
For the third time he snapped his fingers and an odd
animal appeared beside Round John Verging. It was a lion,
or, to be exact, two halves of two lions. It had two legs and
a head on each end, and where it came together in the
middle it had two tails, one on either side. Occasionally they
got tangled with each other.
"Do you come in layers?" asked Round John Verging.
"Do you?" asked one head. "Ask only what you're pre-
pared to answer," said the other.
Round John Verging looked himself over. "Yes,"
244 The Quest of Lady Mondegreen
"Layers as in cake?" asked one head. "Or lairs as in
cave?" asked the other.
"Are you the cave kind?" asked Round John Verging.
"We're asking the questions," said the first head. "De-
fine lairs in layers," said the other.
Round John Verging looked at Harold. "This is hard,"
"Talk back," said Harold.
"Turna Bout is fair play, in addition to being my first
cousin," said Round John Verging to the heads. "I can ask
you two questions, if I answer one."
The heads held a consultation. "Fair enough," they said,
when they came out of their huddle.
"What are you for?" said Round John Verging.
"That's four questions," said the heads.
"Who are you?" he amended.
"Reverse Noel," said one head. "Leon," said the other.
"Now it's our turn."
"No, it isn't," said Round John Verging. "I've only asked
"You got two answers," said one head. "You must have
asked two questions," said the other. "Our turn," they said
firmly in unison.
"All right," said Round John Verging.
"What's reverse Noel?" they asked.
"The opposite of Christmas," said Round John Verging.
"I would like to submit, sir," said the first head to Harold,
"that that is a tautology," said the second, "and doesn't
"Out of sleight, out of hand," said Harold. "You've been
a little tautological yourselves. He has to be taught a logic,
but you have to take the consequences."
"My turn/' said Round John Verging. "Why do you have
"To give you two answers/' they said.
"What is a mondegreen?" said Round John Verging
quickly, before they could say that he had asked two
"A mondegreen is a vocative/' said one head, gaily. "A
mondegreen is a pityme," said the other, sadly.
"Please, sir," said Round John Verging to Harold, "Those
aren't the same thing."
"They both call," said one head. "How much correspond-
ence must he have?" said the other.
"You're all correct," said Harold, "but you mustn't keep
coming to me for help. You must learn to fight in the corner
where you are."
"Just one question," said Round John Verging.
"Very well," said Harold.
"What is this?" asked Round John Verging.
"Reverse Noel is three hundred and sixty-four days of
the year," said Harold, "as you should know. Which, as
you not necessarily should know, is the life of elastic. That's
enough for the present." He looked around.
"Ah, yes," he said, as his eye fell on Lady Mondegreen.
"What do you think?"
"You made me up, and you made me up right," said
Lady Mondegreen. "But I am left. You cannot give me the
"Very good," said Harold. "Now I will ask you a riddle.
Why is Amurray like the measles?"
"Because I will come down with him," said Lady Monde-
"All around my house," said Harold, "is a green world
246 The Quest of Lady Mondegreen
with many green paths, some for the euphoric and some for
the you're-for-it, some for the weary and some for the
wearisome, some for the fortunate and some for the too
late. There is even a path for Punches Pilate, and there is
also a path for a bunch of violets. As far as you can be and as
near as you can see, as far away as you can think and as here as
you can blink stretches the green world. In it is your castle,
and the Earl Amurray gallops the paths. Your friends will
take you there."
Lady Mondegreen stopped in the kitchen to say good-by
to Good Mrs. Murphy, who refused to, saying, "You should
know by now that you haven't seen the last of tough old
Good Mrs. Murphy."
After that, Harold saw them off, standing in the door of
his house with his hand resting on the dorkey bird's head.
Leon led the way, with Lady Mondegreen riding on his
back with the two tails wrapped around her to hold her in
place. Behind him came the child she-bear and Little Sedo-
rum. Round John Verging, O Camel, and Gladly brought
up the rear, conversing together like veterans.
Far in the distance of the green world gleamed the crene-
lated battlements of the castle, and the banner over it
Harold waved as long as Lady Mondegreen, looking over
her shoulder, could see him.
"What time is it?" asked the dorkey bird, when they had
finally faded from sight.
"It's wit's-end tide," said Harold. "I am going to take a
He went indoors. The dorkey bird settled down again on
the sill to wait for the next thing.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sylvia Wright's first substantial work was a verse play about
the nine muses, written when she was nine. But, as is true of
many American writers, this early burst of promise was fol-
lowed by a run-of-the-mill, middle-twentieth-century liter-
ary career. She worked in publishing (Farrar & Rinehart),
for the Office of War Information in New York and overseas,
for the magazine Harper's Bazaar, and for the OWI's peace-
time successor, the U.S. Information Service. She cut and
edited for publication her father, Austin Wright's, long
novel, Jslandfa, and has herself been published in such typi-
cal middle-twentieth-century magazines as Harper's, Har-
per's Bazaar, Vogue, The Reporter, and High Fidelity.
After a search of the available biographical material, it can
be said that Sylvia Wright is unquestionably the only
American writer with twenty-five ribs who has contributed
to all three of the following publications: the Buckingham
School (Cambridge, Mass.) Packet, the Bryn Mawr College
Lantern, and Glas Pobede. Only the invidious would at-
tempt to discount the last-named on the bases that any con-
tribution of Miss Wright's was lost in translation into
Serbo-Croat, and that a good many copies of Glas Pohede,
a very little magazine, were certainly lost in the forests of
Yugoslavia, when dropped there by air during the last part
of World War II. How these diverse influences ever came
together to create the present book is still unexplained. It
is to be doubted if it will ever be clear to anyone, including,
fortunately, Miss Wright.
Get away from me with those Ch main
3 lEbE 032bM B117